Workers’ Compensation and Coronavirus
March 18th, 2020 | Donald C. Ligorio
Coronavirus (officially COVID-19) continues to create new and difficult issues in all aspects of American life. The risk of community spread makes it likely that some workers will contract the virus as a result of exposure at their place of employment or as part of their job. Also, workers with limitations caused by injuries unrelated to COVID-19 may find themselves unemployed because of the economic effects of the Coronavirus or precautions put in place to stem the spread of the virus. Depending on the specific circumstances, these infected and/or injured workers may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation Benefits.
If the disease was caused as a result of employment, the infected worker has sustained a compensable injury, entitling them to wage loss and medical benefits. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act has long recognized that diseases contracted at work are compensable. A separate law, known as the Occupational Disease Act, lists certain diseases for which there is a rebuttable presumption that the disease was contracted at work. For example, a health care worker who contracts hepatitis or a coal miner who contracts black lung is entitled to a presumption that the disease is work related. In these cases, the relationship between the disease and the employment is presumed by law and individuals are almost always entitled to benefits.
Given the novel nature of the Coronavirus, it is not listed as an enumerated disease. Certain occupations, such as healthcare workers, may be able to obtain a presumption that the disease is related by establishing that the incidence of the disease is substantially higher in their occupation than in the general population. Workers in occupations in which the rate of the disease is similar to that of the general public may have a difficult time proving that they contracted the disease at work rather than at home or from the general public. Any individual who believes they have contracted the Coronavirus as a result of exposure in the workplace should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.
Individuals who are currently working under medical restrictions due to any work injury may be become unable to work as a result of the health precautions and/or economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. Individuals with work injuries often return to positions with physical or mental limitations as a result of the work injury. These jobs may become unavailable because they are non-essential. Additionally, employers may be forced to close their doors either because of lack of work or actions taken by State, Local, and Federal Governments to protect the public. Typically, an individual who is incapable of performing their job and becomes unemployed through no-fault of their own is entitled to reinstate their claim for workers’ compensation benefits. For example, an individual who previously worked at a restaurant as a cook but is now working as a host due to a back injury, is currently unable to work because of the restrictions on restaurants. The employee continues to have restrictions which prevent him from working elsewhere as a cook but cannot work as a host when the restaurant is closed to the public. Under the current law, this individual is entitled to reinstatement of workers’ compensation wage loss benefits.
“Like most things surrounding COVID-19, there is a great deal of uncertainty. Anyone who believes they either contracted the coronavirus as a direct result of their employment or as an unrelated work injury and is now unable to work due to the virus should contact an experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney” says Donald C. Ligorio, a Principal of HKQ Law and a Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialist.
If you need to speak to a Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialist, call the attorneys at HKQ Law at 800-760-1LAW to schedule your free consultation.