More States Move To Make COVID-19 Compensable, as Critics Air Concerns

03 Apr, 2020 Liz Carey

                               

Tallahassee, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) Florida and Minnesota are joining the growing number of states that are moving to cover first responders who contract the COVID-19 virus under workers’ compensation.

Last week, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis ordered the Division of Risk Management (DRM) to review workers’ compensation claims submitted by “frontline state employees” who may have contracted COVID-19 through interactions with potentially infected people. As of Monday, the state had 36 such claims.

And the claims came from law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, correctional officers, health care workers, child safety investigators and Florida National Guard members.

“If we’re going to ask our public servants to fight this pandemic on our behalf, they have to know we’ve got their backs if they get sick,” Patronis said. “Workers’ compensation insurance was developed to provide our public servants a way to cover a portion of their lost wages and medical costs, so their families don’t have to worry as much. Providing this important coverage to our men and women on the front line is just the right thing to do.”

But critics say making COVID-19 compensable is going to increase claims in a time when workers’ compensation insurance payments will be lower. With many businesses laying workers off in April while their business is shuttered due to state’s responses to halt the spread of the coronavirus, April’s payroll for workers’ compensation premiums will be lower, as well.

Michael Duff, a workers’ compensation professor at the University of Wyoming, said employers should expect that the end result of extending benefits will be higher premiums.

“If everybody who gets sick on the job is able to file a compensation claim and everyone is successful, it may bankrupt a company,” Duff told Bloomberg News.

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz said he would take action to approve workers’ compensation for emergency responders who contract the disease on the job if legislators don’t step up to the plate to do it.

After legislators failed to pass a bill that would have provided workers’ compensation benefits for health care and public safety professionals, Rep. Dan Wolgamott (D-St. Cloud) said he asked the governor in a letter to step in.

"I sent a letter to Governor Walz asking him to sign an executive order to provide access to workers' compensation for our police officers, firefighters, nurses, EMTs, corrections officers, sheriffs, and healthcare workers who are putting their physical health on the line to do their jobs, but they shouldn't be putting their financial health on the line," he told KNSI Radio.

The letter, sent by Wolgamott and signed by 59 other representatives, asked Walz to cover the employees through an executive order.

“It is of the utmost importance during this time of crisis that those working on the frontlines of this pandemic receive due protection from the state,” the letter said. “After thoughtful collaboration with stakeholders, I truly believe the most effective way to support these workers is this: for any employee who contracts COVID-19 and who has been directly dealing with this disease in their daily work, the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Law is extended to presume that the disease occurred in the course and scope of their employment. It is the right and rational thing to do.”

According to NCCI, at least 10 states have moved to cover COVID-19 as a compensable disease for first responders.

In Ohio, where legislators unsuccessfully moved to cover the disease early in March, workers’ compensation claims are already spiking.

In late March, Stephanie McCloud, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation administrator, told an investigative news team at Fox 8 that her office had already received 18 workers’ compensation claims from employees who felt as though their employers weren’t doing enough to keep them safe.

The BWC released information about when COVID-19 would be covered, however.

“It depends on how you contract it and the nature of your occupation,” the bureau said in a COVID-19 FAQ. “Generally, communicable diseases like COVID-19 are not workers’ compensation claims because people are exposed in a variety of ways, and few jobs have a hazard or risk of getting the diseases in a greater degree or a different manner than the general public. However, if you work in a job that poses a special hazard or risk and contract COVID-19 from the work exposure, BWC could allow your claim.”


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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