Safety and OSHA News

Could coronavirus lead to workers’ comp claims? Experts say ‘yes’

As the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak continues in the U.S., employers are being confronted with the possibility of facing workers’ comp claims from employees who either contracted the virus at work or during work-related travel. 

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries announced March 5 that the state is changing its policy around workers’ compensation coverage for healthcare workers and first responders quarantined by a physician or public health officer.

Employers urged to pay quarantined workers

Washington State is providing benefits to these workers during the time they’re quarantined after being exposed to the virus on the job.

This coverage includes medical testing, treatment expenses and time-loss payments for those who can’t work while sick or quarantined.

The state agency “is also encouraging employers to continue to pay workers who are quarantined after being exposed,” according to an L&I news release.

And some workers’ compensation professionals are warning a broader outbreak of the virus could impact claims for any employer whose workers are more at risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Ask these questions

Organizations should consider how the outbreak could directly impact their claims, according to information from Aon Risk Management.

Company leaders should ask themselves:

  • Do we have employees located in, or traveling to, areas where there are documented and diagnosed cases of the virus?
  • Does our business or industry increase the probability of an employee becoming exposed to people infected by the virus?
  • Do our employees work in close proximity with vendors or other strategic partners with employees who are at greater risk of infection?

A “yes” to any of those questions should lead to another question:

  • Do we have a contingency plan in place to manage or mitigate workers’ compensation claims or their potential impacts?

Because of varying state laws and circumstances unique to a particular organization, each case should be independently reviewed and investigated.

At greater risk than general public

One thing that stands true across the board, however, is that for most industries “the matter would likely not be deemed compensable if the employee was considered at no greater risk than the general public.”

But if a healthcare worker, or someone who can confirm on-the-job exposure, has the virus and it’s ultimately proven they contracted it at their place of employment “then any subsequent lost time, including the period of absence required during the quarantine/monitoring period, should trigger coverage.”

Further, absence from work during the quarantine or monitoring period could also trigger coverage under workers’ compensation even if the employee tests negative for the virus.

Exposure = injury

This is because some states see “exposure” as the “injury” rather than the symptoms, so employees at risk because of a job may be covered since exposure would trigger comp rather than actually contracting the coronavirus.

Because of this, using time covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act for the quarantine period could be an employer’s best bet.

Need more information?

Premier Learning Solutions is offering a workshop, Coronavirus in the Workplace: Employers’ Duty to Protect Employees.

The workshop covers:

  • OSHA’s requirements for protecting against infectious diseases
  • disease prevention & control best practices for employers, and
  • employer responsibility for employee protection: What you need to know.

The speaker is Adele L. Abrams, a nationally recognized authority on Occupational Safety and Health law.

For this one hour program, you can claim 0.05 continuance of certification points (COCs) from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BSCP).

Click here for registration and more information.

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