Since the pandemic began, more than 153,000 Americans have been hospitalized with the virus. More than half of them were of working age, between 18 and 64. One issue that has been playing out in state capitols across the country is whether COVID should be considered a workplace-caused illness covered by Workers Compensation programs since it may have been spread in certain workplaces.
Workers’ Compensations programs are administered by states, and states are free to set their own standards and requirements in this area.
What are states doing?
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a bipartisan organization that tracks state policy issues, many states have clarified this issue since early 2020 through legislation, policy directives, and executive orders.
The trends, based on the NCSL compilation, indicate that states seem willing to extend COVID workers comp benefits to first responders and healthcare workers. Some states are going further to include grocery workers and other broadly defined “essential workers.”
The business perspective
Business groups are attempting to hold the line at that distinction and they seem to be successful for the most part. At this time states have not been inclined to extend coverage beyond these frontline workers, reducing the financial impact on insurers that could have been passed on to employers. States seem to be signaling that COVID exposure cannot be reasonably proven in a typical workplace and that it is more likely to have occurred after hours. They’re preserving the distinction between an “occupational disease” and an “ordinary disease of life.”
After all, in midst of a widespread pandemic, it’s quite difficult for an employee or attorney to prove that a typical office or retail work environment put an employee at a higher risk than someone in the general public, let alone point to a specific worker exposure that caused the illness.
As an employer, if you have any questions about this issue, be sure to consult with your attorney and your insurer.