Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, is at the forefront of everyone's mind right now. Coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and as part of that, we have experienced here in America a massive disruption of our daily lives as have citizens globally.
To flatten the curve and reduce the strain on hospitals and medical centers, most states in the U.S. are under some form of a stay at home or shelter in place order.
If you can work from home, you're told to do so and a lot of places, including restaurants, fitness centers, and entertainment venues are closed until further notice.
For workers who are considered essential, there is the comfort that can come with knowing you're going to continue getting a paycheck, but also a sense of worry that can come with the concept of potentially getting sick.
If you are working and you get sick with coronavirus, what options are available to you, and can you get workers' compensation? The answer is maybe, but probably not.
Workers' Compensation Overview
Workers' compensation is a type of insurance that your employer pays for, and it helps cover costs for employees if they get sick or injured while they're at work. Sometimes the illness or the injury only has to be work-related and doesn't have to happen at work necessarily.
Workers' compensation provides both wage and medical benefits to sick or injured people, and the coverage is dictated by individual states. Therefore the benefits vary by state.
Considered social insurance, with workers' compensation there is a social contract between employers and their employees.
When a business owner has workers' compensation insurance, it protects them from civil lawsuits if their employees do become sick or ill at work, but there are limitations.
In any workers' compensation case, typically, an employee has to go to a health care professional right away because they will need doctor's reports to pursue their claim.
Coronavirus and Workers' Compensation
With coronavirus, many people have become sick and they haven't necessarily known or they may have mild symptoms. For a small percentage of people, symptoms become severe.
If you get very sick at work, what should you know? This could be something relevant to health care workers, grocery store workers, and many other essential employees.
What is available under worker's compensation will depend very much on your state.
For example, in Texas, employers aren't required to obtain workers' compensation insurance and if you work for a company without it, you can't file a claim. This would hold true if you got exposed to coronavirus at work or not.
Some states have set more rigorous standards regarding workers' compensation right now.
In Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee ensured the state would offer workers' compensation protections for health care workers and first responders. These are the workers the state says are on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak.
The state is encouraging employers to continue paying workers who are quarantined once they're exposed to the virus as well.
In Washington, even before the coronavirus outbreak, workers could file a compensation claim up to two years after they were exposed to a disease at work.
In general, in any state, if you can show a direct link to coronavirus exposure and your line of work your claim is more likely to be approved, and you're more likely to be able to show that link if you work in something like health care or you're a first responder.
For the most part, it would be very difficult to get workers' compensation coverage for covid-19.
What Support Would You Need?
If you did seek workers' compensation for coronavirus, you would need to be able to show that you were at an increased risk of getting the disease because of your job. You would also need to show that you wouldn't have likely contracted the disease elsewhere.
It is also sometimes needed or helpful to be able to specifically identify an event that you believe led to the contraction of the disease.
With covid-19 it can be especially tough to show these things because the incubation period is anywhere from 2 to 14 days.
If you're thinking about workers' compensation because of a covid-19 case, you could be better off exploring other options since proving it can be so challenging. For example, in some states, employees may be covered under short- and long-term disability laws if they get the virus.
There is also an expansion of unemployment benefits to think about too.