States are taking steps to extend workers` compensation to first responders and health workers affected by COVID-19. A common approach is to change government policies to assume that COVID-19 infections are work-related among some workers and covered by workers` compensation. This presumption places the onus on both the employer and insurer to prove that the infection was not work-related, making it easier for these workers to successfully file claims. Some employers and insurers are concerned that these presumption policies could increase insurance costs for employers at a time when businesses are already facing significant financial challenges. This information is intended to answer many of the questions L&I receives regarding workers` compensation and this new disease. The answer is complicated. In general, workers` compensation does not cover common Community-wide illnesses such as colds or flu, as they generally cannot be directly related to the workplace. Some states have made exceptions for some workers who develop chronic diseases, such as cancer, due to repeated exposure to harmful materials and environments. According to the National Compensation Insurance Board, prior to COVID-19, at least 19 states had guidelines stating that if firefighters and other first responders develop lung and respiratory diseases, those conditions are presumed to be work-related and covered by workers` compensation.
It is not clear whether these existing guidelines would include COVID-19 disease. This bill limits the risk that employers will be held liable for claims if the infection did not occur in the workplace by tailoring the guesswork to first responders and front-line health professionals whose work puts them at the greatest risk of exposure, as well as to other employees who are experiencing a proven and detectable COVID-19 outbreak in their workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic has created countless challenges for government leaders across the country. This includes the role that workers` compensation insurance plays in supporting workers infected with the disease. Each state has its own unique landscape of workers` compensation policy. States have different coverage requirements and standards depending on the industry, occupation, size and structure of a company. Workers` compensation is designed to benefit both employees and employers by providing reliable insurance coverage with predictable and timely payments and reduced legal fees. In addition to the employee`s free medical treatment, workers` compensation also offers wage replacement benefits for lost wages resulting from absence from work. If an employee dies as a result of an eligible condition, the employee`s family may be entitled to financial death benefits. Most states have a special judicial system of workers` compensation in which judges make the final decision on the rights and benefits granted.
On September 17, 2020, the Governor signed Senate Bill 1159. This new law creates two rebuttable presumptions that COVID-19-related illnesses contracted by certain categories of workers are work-related and therefore entitled to workers` compensation, including medical treatment. The Industrial Insurance Act allows for the treatment of COVID-19 when work-related activities have resulted in probable exposure to the virus and certain criteria are met. In these cases, the employee`s occupation must be more likely to be infected with the disease as a result of work (for example, first responders or health workers). There must also be documented or probable work-related exposure and an employee-employer relationship. The order does not establish a presumption of coverage, but defines COVID-19 as an occupational disease that can be covered by workers` compensation as part of the regular claim process. NCSL is pursuing laws, implementing regulations and other administrative policy changes directly related to covid-19 workers` compensation coverage. A total of 17 states and Puerto Rico have taken steps to expand workers` compensation for COVID-19 as a work-related disease.
Nine states have passed laws that create a presumption of coverage for different types of workers. Minnesota, Utah and Wisconsin limit coverage to first responders and health care workers. Illinois, New Jersey and Vermont cover all major employees, while California and Wyoming cover all employees. Four states have used the authority of the executive branch to implement conjecture guidelines for first responders and health workers in response to COVID-19. Four other states, including California and Kentucky, have taken executive action to provide coverage to other key workers, such as grocery store employees. In March, the Washington Department of Labor and Industry announced that health care workers and first responders will receive wage replacement benefits and cover all related health expenses under the state`s workers` compensation program if quarantined by a doctor. .