Employers should be aware of recent changes in state workers’ compensation laws which expand protections for “front-line” workers in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. These laws make it easier for certain categories of employees to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19 infections.
Employees contracting COVID-19 infections may be unable to succeed in bringing claims under traditional workers’ compensation statutory schemes because they must be able to show both that they contracted COVID-19 from the workplace as opposed to another source – a difficult task –and that the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 was peculiar to the nature of their job.
Some states have taken action to provide an easier path to workers’ compensation benefits for certain categories of workers. One example is Minnesota’s HF 4537, which amends the Minnesota workers’ compensation law to provide that certain employees are presumed to have an “occupational disease arising out of and in the course of employment” if they provide a positive COVID-19 laboratory test or a COVID-19 diagnosis from a physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse based on the employee’s symptoms. The legislation is effective for any covered employee who contracts COVID-19 between April 8, 2020 and May 1, 2021. The list of covered employees under the Minnesota statute includes:
- Peace officers;
- Nurses or healthcare workers;
- Correctional officers or security counselors;
- Emergency medical technicians (EMTs); and
- Certain childcare workers.
More broadly, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission passed an emergency amendment to its workers’ compensation regulations (effective for 150 days following April 16, 2020), adopting a presumption of workers’ compensation coverage for first responders as well as “front-line” workers, which include workers of essential businesses. Essential business is defined broadly to include (but is not limited to) stores selling groceries and medicine; food, beverage, and cannabis production and agriculture; organizations that provide charitable and social services; media; gas stations and businesses needed for transportation; financial institutions; hardware and supply stores; critical trades; businesses providing supplies to work from home; businesses providing supplies for essential businesses and operations; transportation; and home-based care and services.
A number of other states have enacted or proposed legislation or regulatory changes expanding workers’ compensation claims to make it easier to obtain COVID-19-related benefits. Employers should check the efforts applicable in the states where they operate.
For further information about the latest COVID-19 related laws and guidance affecting your workplace, please consult an author of this article or the Hogan Lovells attorney with whom you regularly work.