A number of states across the nation are modifying or reconsidering their rules to ensure first responders such as firefighters, paramedics, nurses, and others combating the COVID-19 pandemic have unhindered access to workers’ compensation benefits if they contract the virus. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “about a half-dozen states have changed their rules since late March so that front-line workers are presumed to be eligible for workers’ comp unless their insurance carrier can prove they were infected outside of work. Normally, workers have the burden to prove they were hurt or infected on the job.”
These presumptive eligibility rules approved by a number of states vary in who they actually cover. The majority cover healthcare workers who provide primary care services and law enforcement. The state of Illinois has also included grocery store clerks, corrections officers, and other individuals considered essential workers.
COVID-19 related workers’ compensation claims
Most businesses across the U.S. are required to provide workers’ compensation coverage to employees. This coverage pays for lost wages and medical care for workers injured on the job in addition to funeral expenses to dependents of the workers if they die. Employers pay insurance companies premiums and, with that money, insurers pay out claims.
Workplace injuries are the source of the majority of workers’ compensation claims. However, some claims involve acquired illnesses on the job. Generally these illnesses are covered as long as the illness contracted is related specifically to the job, such as acquiring an illness due to dangerous chemical toxins in an industrial plant, or respiratory illness due to exposure. Contracting the flu from a sick fellow employee would not be cause to file a workers’ compensation claim.
Why Maryland should join in this fight
Although Maryland has yet to implement changes to workers’ compensation laws to accommodate those infected by COVID-19 as other states have, individuals who go to work and later test positive for COVID-19 may have a right to workers’ compensation. The fair way to deal with these situations is to create a presumption in the law that their COVID-19 infection happened due to exposure at work. This concept is not new, as Maryland already has several occupational disease presumptions under the workers’ compensation statute. Under Maryland Labor and Employment § 9-503, paid firefighters, police officers, deputy sheriffs, correctional officers, and other first responders may be entitled to compensation, under certain circumstances, for the following occupational illnesses:
- Heart disease, hypertension, or lung disease
- Leukemia or pancreatic, prostate, rectal, or throat cancer caused by contact with a toxic substance that the individual has encountered in the line of duty
- Lyme disease
These diseases are presumed to have arisen from their employment, and the insurance company has the burden to prove they are from another cause. It would help protect our front-line workers to have a presumption that their COVID-19 diagnosis came from their employment. This way they would be protected from wage loss or medical bills that arise from their illness. They would also be protected if more serious complications arose both now and in the future. Recent discoveries and reports regarding coronavirus have shown that coronavirus victims face risks of long-term injury to the lungs. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, can cause lung complications such as pneumonia and, in the most severe cases, acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS. Sepsis, another possible complication of COVID-19, can also cause lasting harm to the lungs and other organs.”
Without a presumption in the law our first responders and healthcare workers who contract the disease now while in the course of their job duties will have to prove their exposure happened at work. While I believe there are ways to prove this, Maryland legislators and the Governor should join other states’ leads to ensure that first responders and healthcare workers infected by coronavirus receive workers’ compensation by creating a presumption in the law that the diagnosis was from their occupation.
If you suffered an injury at work and you are having difficulty applying for or receiving workers’ compensation benefits, the Maryland work injury attorneys at Plaxen & Adler, P.A., are here to help. We have more than 30 years of experience fighting for and protecting the rights of injured workers. Please give us a call today at 410.730.7737 or use our contact form to request a free case review.