Now, more than ever, front-line healthcare workers and first responders are stepping up to save lives, protect the community and risk their own health in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some will invariably become ill. There’s even early evidence that they’re experiencing stronger symptoms and higher rates of mortality than the general population—perhaps due to the level of the virus they’re exposed to on the job.
So do healthcare workers, first responders and other high-risk employees have workers’ compensation claims? Much comes down to where they work, what they do and who employs them.
Federal Employees and Workers’ Compensation Claims
In March, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that federal employees who develop COVID-19 while performing their federal duties are entitled to workers’ compensation coverage. But the DOL also acknowledged that it can be incredibly difficult to know when a sick person contracted the virus. That’s why federal employees who’ve contracted the coronavirus and are filing for workers’ comp will now be broken into two groups:
- Those who are high risk and have “in-person and close proximity interactions” with the public on a frequent basis. This includes law enforcement, first responders, and front-line medical and public health personnel.
- Those who do not have this level of day-to-day exposure
Essentially, the government recognizes that there’s a higher likelihood of infection for some workers. More so, the DOL accepts that for these workers, documenting the precise time of infection is almost impossible.
So for high-risk federal employees, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs set up a new set of procedures, allowing them to simply prove that they are both sick with COVID-19 and hold a high-risk position. For other federal employees, they’ll still need to provide a statement and any evidence proving the circumstances of their exposure.
Other High-Risk Employees
For high-risk employees who are not in federal positions, pursuing workers’ comp claims may be more of a challenge. Common infectious diseases like the flu are not considered occupational illnesses. Despite the increased severity of symptoms for adults with COVID-19, Georgia’s law would still treat it like the flu.
Georgia Code § 34-9-280 stipulates that an “occupational disease” must not be an “ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed.” COVID-19 is widespread, so the argument would be that an employee could have contracted the disease from a trip to the grocery store or from a family member as easily as from work.
However, if you’re a healthcare worker or first responder, you may still have a case. To correct this potential loophole, some states are even extending occupational protections—taking steps to better cover healthcare workers and other first responders. We’re following this situation closely and continuing to advocate for front-line workers who are risking so much right now for their communities.
Your Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
A workers’ compensation lawyer can help you better understand the system, guide your conversations with the insurance company and ensure you have all the documentation you need to make a strong case. The Law Offices of Laura Lanzisera can explain Georgia’s workers’ compensation system and the benefits available for your injury or disability. Contact our office today for a free consultation.