“I have COVID-19 and I think I got it from work. Should I make a workers’ compensation claim?”
The short answer: it depends.
COVID-19 or coronavirus is changing the way we live our lives. It is wreaking havoc on the economy, particularly on small businesses. It is disrupting our education system and causing stress to our health care system. For those who work in healthcare, and in many other industries, COVID-19 also means an increased risk to their health and wellness. While many of us can self-quarantine and work from home, many other Minnesota workers do not have that luxury. Many must still show up to their shifts and take care of those who are falling ill from coronavirus.
Minnesota employees are eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits when they develop an occupational disease that arises out of the course and scope of employment. Minnesota Statutes § 176.011, subd. 15 provides the definition of an occupational disease. This definition is likely expansive enough to cover many workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 as a result of their work duties.
An “occupational disease” is not an ordinary disease of life to which the general public is equally exposed. To be eligible for benefits, an employee must show a direct connection between an his or her work and an occupational disease. In other words, in order to have a compensable claim under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act, an employee’s COVID-19 must be the result of an exposure generated by his or her employment.
The occupational disease statute states, “[a] disease arises out of the employment only if there be a direct causal connection between the conditions under which the work is performed and if the occupational disease follows as a natural incident of the work as a result of the exposure occasioned by the nature of the employment.” It further states that “[a]n employer is not liable for compensation for any occupational disease which cannot be traced to the employment as a direct and proximate cause and is not recognized as a hazard characteristic of and peculiar to the trade, occupation, process, or employment or which results from a hazard to which the worker would have been equally exposed outside of the employment.”
If you apply Minnesota’s definition of an occupational disease to COVID-19 (or coronavirus), it is clear that for certain professions, the disease would be considered a work-related injury and employees would be eligible for medical, wage loss, rehabilitation and other benefits. For example, if a health care worker working in a hospital or clinic develops coronavirus, it would likely be considered a workers’ compensation claim. The same would be true for a paramedic, firefighter, EMT, or police officer who responded to call involving coronavirus or provided emergency medical services or care to patient with coronavirus. For these individuals, their jobs placed them at an increased risk of contracting the virus. Fortunately, for many of those on the frontlines of the pandemic, this causal connection has been made very clear by the addition of a presumption under Minn. Stat. § 176.011.
On April 8, 2020, the Minnesota Legislature passed legislation that created a statutory presumption in workers’ compensation for first responders and medical workers who may contract COVID-19. This means that if first responders, and others included in the law, are diagnosed with COVID-19, the cause is presumed to be their work. The law has switched the burden of proof to employers and presumes that COVID-19 is work-related unless the employer is able to prove that the employee’s condition was caused by something else.
So, who is covered by the COVID-19 Presumption?
- Police officers
- Health care workers
- Correctional officers
- Security counselors
- Childcare providers who care for the children of any of the above-listed categories of people.
In short, if you were diagnosed with COVID-19, you may have a workers’ compensation claim. If you work in one of the areas that the COVID-19 legislation covers, this makes your claim stronger. Either way, it is important that if you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and you believe it may be related to work to report the injury. Fortunately, most people who contract this illness make a full recovery; however, there are also those who do not. Reporting the injury after it occurs will help to protect you and your family in the event of a difficult recovery or if you have unanticipated, long-lasting effects from COVID-19.
If you have any questions regarding COVID-19, or any other work-related injuries, please call Attorney Joe Osterbauer at (612) 334-3434