Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know about the COVID-19 pandemic. The global outbreak disrupted everyday life for most people. Because of the outbreak, many states are encouraging employers to provide a safe environment for their employees. The heads of the countries are also asking their population to work from home until they can bring the situation under control. The scientific reason for this? Social distancing minimizes human transmission of Covid-19.
Many companies are taking steps to protect their workers by establishing work from home protocols. However, essential services and some businesses still require their employees to continue working in environments wherein there is little to no social distancing is possible. Under these circumstances it is reasonable to assume that the chances of contracting Covid-19 is significantly higher than if the employee were working from home.
Is Your Employer Liable If You Contract COVID-19 Because You Are Not Able to Work From Home?
Generally if an employee suffers an injury in the workplace, such as falling or slipping, he/she is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits such as medical care and loss wages.
But in the COVID-19 situation, the employer will claim that an employee could have contracted the virus from anywhere. Generally, workers have to prove that the disease is the result caused by the conditions established for workers. Like the common flu, Covid-19 could arguable be considered a nonoccupational disease or not work related. However there are exceptions: 1) the employment by nature subjects the employee to increased risk of contracting Covid-19 compared to the general public, or 2) the immediate cause of the injury is an intervening human agency or instrumentality of the employment. An example of the first exception would be having an usually higher amount of positive Covid-19 cases (percentage wise) at your place of employment compared to the general public. Another example would be to establish a significantly reduced ability to execute social distancing while carrying out your job duties. In the case of health workers, police officers and firefighters they have little to no ability to carry out their jobs and maintain recommended social distancing. Their contraction of Covid-19 would likely be deemed compensable in under Workers Compensation law. How about airport workers and airline workers? Flight attendants would certainly be at a higher risk and so would reservation agents. But what about ramp agents? Their work does not require interaction with customers, but their work does require team work and constant interaction with each other. All these workers have varying levels of risk that arguably is higher than the general public. The question of whether it is enough to prove that it meets the two exceptions turns on whether you have the right advocate on your side.
What are your remedies should you contract Covid-19 in a situation described above?
Should the contraction be deemed compensable in workers compensation law you would be entitled to disability leave for time off work to recover and to undergo quarantine. If the recovery period is longer than the quarantine period you should be paid during said time. You would also be entitled to medical care and ultimately monetary compensation for any permanent damage to your lungs or organs as a result of the infection.
What about aggravation of any preexisting conditions due to the coronavirus? Yes. The law requires employer to pay for worsening or treatment of any preexisting condition that has been lit up by the work injury.
In conclusion, you must understand clearly your rights as a worker during these hazardous times and you must get the right advocate on your side. In the meantime, exercise all caution and safety measures to protect yourself.