What Workplace Rules Apply to COVID Vaccines?

Posted on Wednesday, January 6th, 2021 at 12:17 pm    

There’s good news finally about the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected workers and everyone in numerous ways. More than 350,000 Americans have died due to the disease and nearly 20 million Americans have become infected. 

The good news is that the Food and Drug Administration has approved two COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and by Moderna. The vaccines use mRNA technology. Everyone who receives these two vaccines which helps their immunity system fight the disease – will require two doses.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, North Carolina health officials are setting the priorities for when different classes of people (depending on their work activities, health risks, and age) should be eligible for the vaccine. The December 31, 2020 article outlines the priorities. Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, stated at a press conference, that the state will have a four-part rollout of the vaccines. The plan, which was developed through North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s office, will prioritize older people and frontline essential workers.

The North Carolina priorities match the vaccination priorities set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

  • Phase 1a rollout. In this first phase, priority is given to “health care workers in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, and also long-term care residents and staff.”
  • Phase 1b rollout. Here, three groups of North Carolina residents will receive the next two million sets of vaccination. There are sub-priorities in these phases as follows:
    • Group 1: People 75 years and older, no matter what underlying conditions they have or don’t have
    • Group 2: Health care workers who work with patients and frontline essential workers who are 50 or older.
    • Group 3: Health care workers who work with patients and frontline essential workers of any age who have not been vaccinated yet.

How are “frontline essential workers” defined

North Carolina uses the CDC definition of a frontline essential workers. These people are employees who are at the “highest risk for being exposed to the coronavirus” “This phase is expected to begin in early January.” Frontline workers, according to the published article, include:

  • First responders like firefighters and police officers
  • Grocery store workers
  • Childcare workers
  • Teachers and education support staff
  • Corrections officers
  • Food and agricultural workers
  • U.S. Postal Service workers
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Public transit workers

 

  • The Phase 2 rollout. This phase includes the following categories (in the following order) of North Carolina residents:
    • People ages 65-74
    • People ages 16-64 with high-risk conditions
    • People incarcerated and living in other group settings
    • “Essential workers.”

How are essential workers defined?

“Essential workers are defined by N.C. DHHS and the CDC as”

  • Transportation and logistics workers
  • Water and wastewater workers
  • Food-service workers
  • Shelter and housing workers, including construction
  • Finance workers, like bank tellers
  • Information technology workers
  • Media workers
  • Public safety workers like engineers
  • Public health workers
  • Communications workers
  • Energy workers
  • Workers in the legal field

 

  • Phase 3 rollout. This phase includes college and university students and students 16 years-of-age and older.

 

The vaccines are being given to residents just as North Carolina announced likely increases in “COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations expected due to Christmas and New Year’s gatherings.”

Can Employers mandate that employees take the vaccine?

According to the Fayetteville Observer, the issue of whether employers can or can’t mandate that their workers be vaccinated is fast becoming a reality – and not a hypothetical. Health officials in North Carolina expect that the general adult population will have enough vaccines during the first half of 2021.

“The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services told the USA Today Network it has no plans to mandate vaccinations. But private sector employers can require workers to get them, labor law experts say.”

 

According to UNC School o f Law professor, Jeffery Hirsch, the private sector can manage employee vaccinations because the “private sector is at-will employment.” 

Already, health care providers do mandate that members of the provider’s staff get immunizations for mumps, polio, the yearly flu, and other preventable diseases. According to Duke University School of Law professor, Dan Bowling, “jobs that feature significant customer and coworker interactions often have vaccine requirements.”

Generally, employers need to show that mandating the vaccine is a job-related necessity and “would pose a ‘direct threat to the health or safety of others’ if skipped according to the Americans for Disabilities Act.”

Workers whose job is terminated for noncompliance to these mandates may file EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) complaints – but “experts say the law favors employers, even when workers seek medical or religious exemptions.” “While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act says employers must reasonably accommodate workers’ religious practices, the law allows employers leniency if these accommodations pose an ‘undue hardship’ on their business. “

Employers are likely to mandate the vaccines for two reasons. The first reason is to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the employer’s business. The second reason is because a large number of people (about 60 to 90%) need to have the vaccines or have been infected – to reach herd immunity. There are concerns that many people will not get the vaccine – even when it becomes clear the vaccines are working.

Health officials in North Carolina are working to assure residents that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe. Some employers are expected to offer financial incentives (similar to company incentives for insurance rate breaks for non-smokers) to encourage workers to take the vaccines.

So far, hospitals have been hesitant to mandate the vaccines for their staff. “Given the limited experience with the vaccine, there are no current plans to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for UNC Health employees,’ a UNC Health statement said.”

According to the president of the N.C. Nurses Association, most health care workers are welcoming the vaccine.

All employees are valuable workers. It’s critical that all workers have access to vaccines so they can work on-site instead of remotely. Once workers do return to work at their regular job locations, they will still be at risk for many types of physical injuries and occupational illnesses. If you’re hurt at work for any reason, our experienced North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyers are ready to help you jet the benefits you deserve. Call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or fill out my online contact form to schedule an appointment. Employees can now also complete our New Electronic Case Review. It’s a new way of communicating with our clients that we’re providing this service to allow workers to contact us remotely.

Workers’ Compensation Trends for 2021 – Telemedicine and Worker’s Compensation

Posted on Tuesday, December 29th, 2020 at 1:33 pm    

Today, people can connect to the Internet and with each other in many different ways – desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. This technology is now being used to connect doctors and patients remotely – in place of in-office visits. The trend of using telemedicine in workers’ compensation cases is expected to continue through 2021 and beyond.

Electronic communications are being used for consultation, monitoring of a patient’s condition, management of chronic conditions, management of medication, and other clinical services – provided the video and audio connections are private and secure. Telemedicine usually includes a video consultation, after an injury, where the doctor can hopefully make a diagnosis of the workers’ injuries – though the worker may need to go to a lab to have certain medical tests done. The physician can then conduct follow-up examinations remotely instead of in-person. 

According to a representative from Kaiser Permanente (KP), a leader in telemedicine services, In 2015, of KP’s 110 million interactions between physicians and members, 56% were virtual, surpassing physical visits for the first time.”

The US Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the country’s largest healthcare system, is using telemedicine for many veterans nationwide.

The use of telemedicine during the pandemic

During the pandemic, the use of remote technology has been a life-saver for many workers. Workers who use telemedicine can do so from home so they don’t need to be in contact with anyone who might have the disease – other than their own family members. Physicians and healthcare providers are using telemedicine to consult with their patients.

Advantages of telemedicine in work injury cases

There are some advantages to using telemedicine for all types of injuries. Telemedicine is useful for the following situations:

  • If an injury occurs during a night shift when most medical offices and facilities are closed, a physician can remotely begin the evaluation process
  • If an injury occurs in a rural area or an area where there aren’t many quality medical facilities
  • When accidents happen away from the company site. Here, the worker can call into the company doctor.
  • It’s generally easier to schedule appointments. Patients can wait to see the doctor in the comfort of their home instead of waiting in the doctor’s office hoping there’s an interesting magazine to read.
  • Telemedicine can be used to remotely measure a patient’s vital signs
  • Telemedicine can be used to prescribe prescription drugs remotely
  • Text alerts and messages keep the worker/patient informed of important health information

Telemedicine is useful for post-surgery care and second medical opinions. Telemedicine makes it easier to connect with specialists who may not be locally available.

According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), “In certain situations, where accessibility to immediate medical care may be limited, one type of telemedicine service—24/7 tele-triage—may be an invaluable resource for initial assessment and evaluation. 

Telemedicine also helps workers and employers because it saves on the time and expense of transportation to and from the doctor’s/healthcare providers’ office. Telemedicine also makes it easier to see specialists and to reduce delays in getting medical treatment.

Some of the limitations and risks of using telemedicine

Generally, telemedicine is only advisable for non-critical situations. Many workers do need to be treating in an emergency room or a doctor’s office so the physicians can properly and fully examine the patient.

There are many legal issues involved with telemedicine such as that physicians can generally only give advice to patients they’ve seen in person at least once and can only give advice to patients who live in the same state as the doctor.

Some of the downsides of using telemedicine for work injury patients include:

  • The technology isn’t always reliable. Signal or connection failures can mean missing an appointment.
  • Some workers just aren’t comfortable with any type of technology including video technology

According to NNCI, some of the other risks of telemedicine include:

  • “Lack of physician fee schedules for telemedicine services
  • Lack of regulations and policies for licensing and privacy
  • Jeopardized quality of care with potential for misdiagnosis
  • Possible high start-up technology costs
  • Cybersecurity threats; security of data.”

As telemedicine expands, medical practitioners and patients will need to develop a balance between in-person visits and the use of telemedicine.

Recent Telemedicine Legislation

States and federal agencies, such as Medicare, are working to keep current with the advances in technology. According to NNCI, “In early 2018, Texas proposed a rule that would expand injured workers’ access to telemedicine services by lifting a restriction in the Medicare-based reimbursement policy that limits the use of telemedicine to underserved areas—typically rural regions with few healthcare providers.” Other restrictions, depending on the state, require that telemedicine could only be provided to a patient in a doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic, but not at a patient’s home. 

Generally, the types of telemedicine services that are covered by workers’ compensation insurance, the provider requirements, and how reimbursement works vary from state to state. Some states require that doctors even have a special telemedicine license. 

It is likely that the use of telemedicine will expand even when the pandemic is over. Because telemedicine helps reduce costs and may improve the outcomes for the worker (because the worker has access to specialists and his/her medical care is monitored electronically), telemedicine should be advantageous for both the worker and the employer’s insurance company. In addition, as telemedicine expands, workers may find that they enjoy it even more because of the reduced need for travel while they’re not feeling well and for the other advantages that we’ve described.

Attorney Joe Miller has been a strong advocate for injured and ill workers in North Carolina and Virginia for more than 30  years. He works with your physicians and the company doctors to help ensure you are receiving the medical care you need and deserve. To discuss your North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation claim with an experienced and caring work injury lawyer, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or use my online contact form to schedule an appointment. Workers can also use our New Electronic Case Review. It’s a new way of communicating with clients that we’re offering – to allow workers to contact us remotely.

Workers’ Compensation Trends for 2021

Posted on Monday, December 28th, 2020 at 1:33 pm    

There are many 2020 developments that will affect workers’ compensation for both employees and employers in 2021 and the coming years. Many of these developments are related to COVID-19. Other developments, according to CMR Risk & Insurance , include the use of telemedicine, the rise of mega claims, and the rise of comorbidities.

Employers across North Carolina and Virginia are required to have workers’ compensation for their employees. The insurance should cover any accidents in the workplace regardless of fault and any occupational illnesses. The insurance should pay the workers’ medical bills and a large portion of their lost wages (generally, about 2/3rds) during the time they can’t work, or in many cases, if their employer is unable to accommodate their physical restrictions due to the work injury, for a maximum of 500 weeks. In addition, the insurance should pay for any permanent partial disability, even if the injured worker is able to return to employment. In some cases, payment for vocational rehabilitation may be required.

COVID-19 and workers’ compensation

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected workers and employers in many ways. Key compensation factors are related to the nature of the business. Some professions such as healthcare and delivery services expose workers to a greater risk of contracting the disease. Other professions, such as professional services, have less risk because the professionals can usually work remotely by using the Internet.

Employers need to consider what safety precautions to take depending on the nature of their business. Employees need to understand that workers’ compensation claims for families of workers who died due to COVID-19 and claims by workers who become ill or had to quarantine due to the disease will be handled on a case- by- case basis. Some of the questions that arise in COVID-19 workers’ compensation cases include:

  • Did the illness arise out of the scope of your employment?
  • Was the illness caused by job-specific conditions – not through conditions that the general public was also exposed to?
  • Can you prove these items via your doctors to a standard of clear and convincing evidence? 

As we discussed in previous blogs, some states are enacting laws to cover workers who develop COVID-19. Some states are also creating presumptions as to what conditions indicate a worker who developed COVID-19 – developed that condition through work. Thus far, in Virginia, a bill which would have given such presumptions to health care workers, first responders, firefighters,  and teachers who develop COVID-19 was defeated in the State Legislature earlier this year. North Carolina is still wrangling with the particulars of a similar bill before the State Legislature in Raleigh. 

Meanwhile, the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission in Virginia and Industrial Commission in North Carolina are still deciding COVID-19 workers’ compensation cases on an individual basis, under the standards of an ordinary disease of life, which are difficult, but not impossible, to meet. Mega Claims

According to CMR Risk & Insurance, another new trend is that many workers are filing “mega claims” which can result in payouts (for medical bills, wages, and other expenses) of millions of dollars.These claims are usually due to workers who have severe, and often, permanent injuries. Mega claims are often due to motor vehicle accidents, accidents where the worker was struck by an object, and falls.“In some cases, however, mega claims can develop slowly—particularly when caused by minor injuries that go untreated.”

CMR reports that, according to a recent study conducted by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), these claims have reached a 12-year high—increasing in both frequency and severity. This increase has been attributed to several possible factors, such as changes in mortality patterns, medical advances, and a rise in health care costs.”

Employers are advised to take extra safety measures to help reduce the risk workers will suffer injuries that can result in mega claims.

Presumptions for first responders

According to M Power by Mitchell (a casualty and insurance company), “states are beginning to examine presumption laws for first responders and expanding coverage to conditions such as PTSD.” The issue of presumptions raises questions as to:

  • Which injuries and illnesses should be covered?
  • Whether the injuries and illnesses are related to the risks of the job?
  • Who should be covered, if anyone, beyond first responders?

For instance, Virginia this past summer passed into law what is now VA Code 65.2-107, which provides that any first responders, fire fighters and police officers who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will be compensated, provided the PTSD was caused by a “qualifying event.” 

A qualifying event is defined as an event: 

  1. Resulting in serious bodily injury or death to any person or persons;
  2. Involving a minor who has been injured, killed, abused, or exploited;
  3. Involving an immediate threat to life of the claimant or another individual;
  4. Involving mass casualties; or
  5. Responding to crime scenes for investigation.

The rise in comorbidities

“A comorbidity is the simultaneous presence of two or more medical diagnoses for an individual.”

“Comorbid conditions are typically long-term health complications that have the potential to increase the severity of other injuries or illnesses that the affected individual may experience, making it more difficult to fully recover. Common comorbid conditions include obesity, diabetes, hypertension, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.”

CMR states that an NCCI study found that work injury claims involving comorbidities have nearly tripled since 2000. In addition, the cost of workers’ compensation claims involving comorbidities is about twice that of other claims. This is generally because workers with comorbidities need more time to heal, are more likely to develop complications, and are at more risk of having a permanent disability.

In response to the concern about comorbidities, many employers are implementing wellness initiatives – to address chronic health problems and improve their staff’s overall fitness.

Another term to describe comorbidities are “pre-existing conditions.” The good news is that in most cases, if the work injury has even the slightest bit to do with causing the current disability, then the entire claim is compensable. The bad news is that if you are only partially disabled or on light duty, and a comorbid condition causes you to become completely disabled, that could essentially end your workers compensation claim, even if you are under an Award. 

Labor trends and workers’ compensation

Many employers are hiring workers who lack experience in order to fill their labor shortages. The problem is that workers who are inexperienced are more prone to accidents in the workplace. Part of the problem of inexperienced workers can be addressed through better training. Part of the problem, though, is that there’s simply nothing like experience to do jobs in a safer manner.

“According to a recent survey conducted by the Golden Triangle Business Roundtable in Texas, employees with less than five years of experience contribute to 43% of overall workplace injuries.” 

Another labor trend that is affecting workplace accidents is that many workers are working later in life. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that “employees over the age of 55 in the labor force are expected to increase to nearly 25% by 2024 (up from 21.7% in 2014).” Older workers generally require more time to recover from an accident than younger workers. Older workers generally have poorer balance, hearing, and vision than younger workers. They also have slower reaction times.

North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injured workers for more than 25 years. He’s helped thousands of employees get just recoveries for the injuries and illnesses which are work-related. He also keeps current with the new trends and new laws. 

If you’ve been involved in any type of workplace accident or think your illness is related to work, speak with an experienced North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation attorney. You can reach attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or fill out my online contact form to schedule an appointment. Workers now can also complete our New Electronic Case Review. It’s a new way of communicating with clients that we’re offering – to allow workers to contact us remotely.

COVID-19 Can Kill Your VA Workers Comp Case

Posted on Thursday, September 17th, 2020 at 2:27 pm    

In this video Workers Compensation Lawyer Joe Miller explains how your contraction of COVID-19 illness could completely “kill” or derail a perfectly good workers compensation case in Virginia, even if you are under an Award. As a matter of fact, if you become unable to work as a result of ANY condition that is not related to your work injury, and your workers comp doctor has you on light duty, you can expect your benefits to be immediately cut off.

Why? Because you have been removed from the labor market for an unrelated condition, and therefore, your inability to work has nothing to do with your work injury, but with an unrelated condition. Yes, it is very, very unfair and no, it was not your fault that you got sick. But the workers compensation insurance company does not care about that, nor does the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission. The bottom line is if you are under an Award, and you’re on light duty, you had better avoid getting COVID-at all costs. Even if you only test positive and have no symptoms, we know that positive result would prevent you from working anywhere and therefore, you can expect your benefits to be cut off.

Potential Great News For Virginia Health Care Providers and others who Got Sick from COVID-19

Posted on Friday, September 4th, 2020 at 9:41 am    

Workers Compensation Attorney Joe Miller talks about Virginia Senate Bill 5066, which proposes to create a legal presumption for all police, firefighters, first Responders and healthcare providers in the Commonwealth that if he or she contracted COVID-19, then it is presumed to have been contracted on the job, and accordingly, is compensable as an occupational disease. Most importantly, the bill, as proposed, would be retroactive to provide this presumption to any worker in one of these occupations who became ill from COVID-19 at any time after January 1, 2020. Although some folks who have already taken their COVID cases to hearing in Virginia have prevailed, the majority have not. (more…)

Custodial Workers and Workers’ Compensation

Posted on Wednesday, August 26th, 2020 at 10:13 am    

As the start of the school year gets nearer, much of the focus has been on when and how the schools should open in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the related issues will be the rights of teachers and custodial workers in these schools. We’ve written previously about teachers and workers’ compensation and also on the general rights of all workers to claim benefits if they contract COVID-19. (more…)

North Carolina Guidelines for People Attending Workers’ Compensation Hearings During the COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Posted on Thursday, August 20th, 2020 at 10:11 am    

The guidelines for North Carolina Industrial Commission hearings, as of July 2020, are the following:

You have COVID-19 symptoms

If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, you should not attend a hearing. You should not enter a courthouse or hearing room. You should contact the deputy commissioner by email or telephone to receive further instructions. (more…)

FAQs about COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation in North Carolina and Virginia

Posted on Friday, June 19th, 2020 at 8:45 am    

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has posted a number of questions and answers about how the novel coronavirus is affecting work injury cases across the country. Some of the questions and answers follow. For more information, consult with an experienced North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer to discuss your rights and your claim. The answers are updated through April 30, 2020.

Is COVID-19 compensable under state workers compensation acts?

This is an open question that is being litigated. Workers’ compensation generally covers occupational illnesses that happen through work. Occupational insurance coverage normally does not include illnesses that are just as likely to occur away from work. So, the question being litigated is whether COVID-19 is more likely to occur at work than away from work. Advocates for coverage assert that for essential worker, the question should be answer in the affirmative. They say the healthcare workers, delivery workers, first responders, and other essential workers are more likely to get COVID-19 while serving the public than at home. Some states are passing or considering passing legislation to answer this question. Until the state passes a law, the question will be resolved by the courts on a case-by-case basis.

Where can I find state-specific legislative activity related to COVID-19?

Each state, including North Carolina and Virginia, has passed either legislation, issued executive orders, or both in regard to a variety of COVID-19 business and employment issues.

 So far, as between the two states, only North Carolina has been moving forward with passing legislation to cover workplace illnesses or death of essential workers due to COVID-19. The orders mostly apply to how cases will be conducted. As of the date of this writing, those efforts are still pending. 

You can find a good overview of ongoing State legislative initiatives across the U.S. specifically with respect to coverage of employees exposed to COVID-19  here

An employer has limited operations due to COVID-19. As a result, some employees are placed into new roles for the duration of the pandemic. What classifications could be assigned to these employees?

Many businesses are shifting to online and curbside pickup services. The employees are shifting from working as waiters for example to helping with deliveries. Generally, the main issues will be whether they are considered employees and what their pay is. Employees are entitled to work injury benefits if they are injured while working. Independent contractors are generally not entitled to benefits for a workplace injury – through the state workers’ compensation system. A skilled work injury lawyer can explain what calculations (Pre-Covid 19 or Post-Covid 19) will be used to determine your average weekly wage and whether you qualify as an employee or an independent contractor.

Is there any guidance regarding data reporting and claims coding related to COVID-19?

Yes. New reporting requirements set forth by the Department of Labor and OSHA have been created for employees who contract COVID-19.

Has Congress or the administration taken any specific actions that would directly impact the state-based workers compensation system?

So far, no specific federal legislation or regulatory initiatives that would “impact the workers compensation system” have been acted. There are some indirect affects due to the passage of the CARES act to help employers keep more employees on their payrolls. “The House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services has proposed considering a Pandemic Risk Insurance Act (PRIA).” Other than that, as mentioned in previous blogs, many states either have passed or are in the process of passing legislation that would give first responders or in some cases, all essential workers a presumption that if they contract illness from COVID-19, that it was contracted on the job, and therefore compensable. 

Unfortunately, Virginia is not among those states and as I’ve said in a previous video, this is a travesty and must be addressed when the legislature goes back for its next session in Richmond. I continue to urge all residents of the Commonwealth to contact their state Representatives and urge that legislation is introduced that at a minimum, protects our frontline healthcare workers in the event they contract the virus and become sick. 

On the other hand, North Carolina is moving forward to address this problem with House Bill 1057. Please urge your North Carolina State Legislators to pass this bill into law. 

Does the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FRCA) address workers compensation, including the treatment of payroll? Will payments by employers for qualified paid sick leave and qualified family and medical leave expansion under the Act be used in the calculation of workers compensation premium?

“None of the provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FRCA) expressly apply to workers compensation.” “In March 2020, Congress passed the Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In general, the Act expands food assistance, addresses unemployment benefits, and provides emergency paid sick leave, emergency expanded family and medical leave, and tax credits.”

Th FCRA does modify and expand family and medical leave coverage  (FMLA)– “by requiring employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid leave to eligible employees for a qualifying need related to a public health emergency.” “Qualifying need” generally applies to employees who can’t work (or telework) because they need leave care for a child under 18 – if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the childcare provider isn’t available – due to the public health emergency. “Public health emergency” means an emergency with respect to COVID-19 declared by a federal, state, or local authority. Previously, the FMLA only applied to employers with more than 500 employees. 

“The section in the Act on Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSLA) provides that an eligible employer will provide an employee with paid sick time if the employee is unable to work or telework for reasons stated in the Act such as:”

  • The employee must comply with a governmental quarantine or isolate order – due to COVID-19.
  • A health care provider has told the employee to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 symptoms.
  • The employee is caring for someone who is required (by a governmental order or a healthcare provider’s directive) to self-quarantine.

North Virginia workers’ compensation attorney Joe Miller Esq. has helped thousands of employees get just settlements and awards. He’s been fighting for injured workers and workers with illnesses for more than 25 years. If you develop COVID-19 or are informed that you need to self-quarantine or stay isolated – preventing your from working, call Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or use my online contact form to arrange to speak with a respected work injury lawyer.

Some States are Making Workers’ Compensation Benefits More Accessible for First Responders and Front Line Workers Who Contract COVID-19

Posted on Thursday, June 18th, 2020 at 8:44 am    

Every state is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways. One of the common priorities is to provide some protection for the first responders and front line workers who are helping to keep everyone safe and helping to treat those people afflicted with the disease.  You can find a good resource to keep up-to-date with those efforts across the U.S. here

First responders and front-line workers generally include:

  • Police workers
  • Fire personnel
  • EMTs – emergency medical technicians
  • Paramedics
  • Health care providers involved in patient care
  • Correction officers
  • Workers in “essential businesses and operations”

New legislation in Illinois to protect first responders, front line workers, and essential workers

Illinois, according to the National Review, has passed legislation that provides that during the state of emergency, workers who can’t work due to COVID-19 exposure don’t need to prove:

  • “That the exposure arose out of and in the course of employment” or
  • “That the injury or period of incapacity was causally connected to the hazards or exposure from employment.

The legislation, in the form of an emergency amendment, creates a rebuttable presumption that the exposure was employment related and that the incapacity was “causally connected to the hazards or exposure from employment.” The amendment doesn’t force workers in essential businesses and operations to distinguish between onsite work and remote work – even though the risk for onsite workers is logically greater. 

According to the National Review, the media are not considered essential businesses and operations. The rebuttable presumption also doesn’t apply to non-essential businesses and operations – even where workers are required to work onsite to keep the business going. The Illinois legislation is stronger than comparable legislation in other states because it does include workers in essential businesses and operations – in addition to first responders and front line workers. Businesses, according to the National Review article, are not happy that the workers compensation coverage has been expanded beyond first responders and front line workers.

New legislation in Missouri to protect first responders and front line workers

According to Fire Rescue 1, Missouri has also passed workers’ compensation legislation to help first responders and front line workers. The new law creates a presumption that first responders who are either diagnosed with COVID-19 or quarantined due to COVID-19 were exposed to the disease through work. The law is an emergency rule announced by Missouri Governor Mike Parson. It applies to the police, to firefighters, and to other first responders (such as EMTs).

 

The rule takes effect on April 30,2020 but applies retroactively to “first responders who already have been diagnosed with the virus or are under quarantine.” Normally, workers need to prove that they acquired an occupational disease while – on the job.

Jefferson City police officer Jeremy Bowman said that COVID-19 has already affected 8 officers in St. Louis who have the disease and another 55 who are quarantined. Officer Bowman said that many other law enforcement and firefighter departments are have similar results. Officers and firefighters have no way of knowing whether the next person they help or arrest has the disease. 

“Mark Woolbright, with the International Association of Fire Fighters, said he knows of at least 10 firefighters who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the 70 fire districts, fire departments and ambulance districts he represents in St. Louis County and St. Charles County.”

Quarantines usually last for 14 days. Treatment of the disease can involve missed work for weeks or months and expensive medical costs especially if a patient needs long-term hospitalization.

“The St. Louis Police Officers Association, the union representing rank-and-file officers with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, said the emergency rule was a ‘game changer.’”

New legislation in Minnesota to protect first responders, front line workers, and essential workers

EMS1 reported on April 13, 2020, that Minnesota’s legislature passed a workers’ compensation bill for first responders which provides occupational illness protection for certain workers who contract the novel coronavirus. The bill applies to paramedics, firefighters, police officers, healthcare workers, corrections officers, and others. These workers won’t need to prove that they acquired the disease through their work. Any worker who has a positive COVID-19 result will be “presumed to have an occupational disease, thereby making them eligible for workers’ compensation benefits under state law.”

North Carolina is considering changing workers’ compensation for frontline workers due to COVID-19

WCTI12 reported on May 13, 2020 that North Carolina leaders have bipartisan support to provide more workers’ compensation benefits, in the form of legislation, for frontline workers. The law, which has not been passed yet, would provide for a rebuttable presumption.  I referenced this very helpful move by North Carolina Legislators in my last blog on this subject. 

The rebuttable presumption means that police, firefighters, and other front line workers wouldn’t have to prove they developed COVID-19 while performing their duties. Instead, the burden would shift to employers to show the workers contracted the disease away from work. The shift In burden is often the difference between winning and losing a workers’ compensation case.

The legislators are also considering requiring that workers be tested before they can return to work. Workers who don’t test negative would not be allowed to return because they could affect co-workers and the general public. The bill applies to healthcare workers and essential workers in addition to first responders. The bill would also set aside $5 million away for workers’ compensation claims which are filed by employees of the government.

North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer Joe Miller Esq. is keeping current with new rules and laws that help protect workers’ rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. He understands that many workers are heroes who are risking their lives to keep others safe. They should be protected if they contract the virus or need to be quarantined. To discuss your workers’ compensation rights during this health crisis, please phone Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or fill out my online contact form to speak with an experienced work injury lawyer.

Health Care Workers and Workers’ Compensation Benefits – in the Age of COVID-19

Posted on Wednesday, May 27th, 2020 at 3:20 pm    

Nurses are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, They are helping out in ICU rooms, emergency rooms, and the rooms where patients are trying to stay alive on ventilators. They’re helping out with testing patients for the coronavirus with swabs and by other means.

These new duties are in addition to their regular duties of helping to prepare patients for surgery and participating in surgeries. Nurses help patents recover by monitoring their systems and giving patients their medications, Nurses also provide a variety of physical and emotional tasks such as:

  • Moving the patients
  • Helping the patients walk and go to the bathroom
  • Repositioning patients in their beds
  • Changing the bed sheets

 

Other duties that nurses with more advance training and certifications perform include:

 

  • Speaking with family members
  • Treating the patient under a physician’s order
  • Helping with diagnostic tests
  • Recording the patient’s signs, symptoms, aches, and pains

 

In addition to certified nurses, there are registered nurses, nurse practitioners, critical care nurses, and other types of nurses.

Many nurses work in hospitals. Nurses also work in nursing home facilities, retirement facilities, assisted living facilities, a physician’s office, ambulatory surgery centers, and other outpatient facilities. Some nurses provide home health care

Nurses and workplace accidents

Nurses often suffer one or more of the following types of accidents during their lifetime”

  • Overexertion injuries. Nurses regularly lift patients move them, transfer them to other rooms, and push them while they’re in wheelchairs. They also reach for objects, handle and move medical equipment, and carry medical tools. All these exertions can cause a nurse to wrench a back, twist an ankle, sprain their neck, or cause fractures, soft tissue injuries, ligament damage, and other injuries that require time off from work.
  • Slips and falls. Nurses concentrate on their patients and their tasks. They don’t always look down at the ground as they walk or move. It’s easy to trip over wires, slip on wet surfaces, trip over objects, or slip and fall for a variety of reasons.
  • Violence. Some patients have severe emotional problems. Some patients are admitted because they’ve been shot or hurt due to force. Nurses are at risk of being attacked by a patient with psychological problems or by someone who is upset with the patient.

Injuries from overexertion, slips and falls, and violence include:

  • Fractures
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Spinal cord damage
  • Back and neck pain
  • Strains of the knee, shoulder wrist, and ankle

Some injuries can force a nurse to lose time from work from months and months. Some victims suffer permanent injuries where they can never return to work or where they can only work with restrictions on how much they can lift, how long they can stand, or other restrictions.

Nurses and occupational injuries

Nurses, especially nurses who work in hospitals, are prone to many types of occupational infections, disorders, and diseases including the following:

  • Exposure to biological dangers, bloodborne risks, airborne diseases, and contagion. Patients are often in a hospital because they have some type of disease or infection. Nurses can contract those diseases and infections through direct skin contact, through blood or bodily fluid that contacts the nurse, through coughs and sneezes, and through other means. Nurses are especially prone to COVID-19. They need to take extra precautions such as wearing special masks, gloves, shoes, and uniforms to decrease the risk of exposure.
  • Exposure to equipment that isn’t sterile and to toxic chemicals used to sterilize medical equipment and medical tools. Ethylene oxide is used to sterilize instruments. It’s a dangerous chemical.
  • Radiation exposure. Nurses who help patients with X-Ray must wear protective gear to reduce the risk or radiation exposures.

Nurses can also be exposed to:

  • Dangerous drugs
  • Latex which may cause allergic reactions
  • Anesthetic gases. For example, nitrous oxide
  • Lasers which can cause severe burns
  • Being stuck by a needle that has dangerous contaminants 

In order to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits due to an occupational illness, the nurse must show, with the help of an experienced work injury lawyer:

  • That they were an employee
  • That their illness was due to workplace conditions
  • That their illness or disease was more likely due to specific workplace conditions than to similar types of exposures when the nurse was at home or was away from her/his workplace.
  • That it was not caused by anything outside of the workplace

Nurses who are exposed to these diseases may die. Survivors may never be able to work again or may need extensive physical and emotional care to return back to their nursing duties.

Nursing, COVID-19, and workers’ compensation

There’s currently no definitive answer or definitive North Carolina or Virginia law that determines whether nurses who contract COVID-19 are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. COVID-19 is not listed in the relevant state statutes which govern occupational illnesses and therefore it is going to be considered an “ordinary disease of life” which almost certainly means that any infected healthcare worker who makes a COVID-19 worker compensation claim is going to be DENIED by the insurance company.

The right of nurses and other healthcare workers under the current statutory claim workers’ to claim workers compensation benefits is very doubtful. 

One would think it seems relatively clear that nurses are exposed to COVID-19 through the work they do with COVID-19 patients or with even being near patients who have contracted the virus. On the other hand, nurses could also contract the virus at home, in a park, or anywhere outside their hospital or workplace environment. Generally, the likelihood of a nurse contracting the virus is much higher at work than away from work, but there is a reason it is called a “pandemic.” “Pan” means it’s everywhere. 

Even if a nurse does contract the disease, there are questions about what would be covered. Generally, workers’ compensation covers reasonable medical expenses and a percentage (typically 2/3rds ) of their average weekly salary. For COVID-19, medical bills should include payment for medical testing and any treatments that are required including medications and medical consultations.

But as noted above, under the current laws, all cases would most likely be denied by the insurance company and head to hearing. In fact, our office has already fielded such calls, and an as expected, the insurance companies are, in fact, denying COVID-19 claims

If the injured worker became severely ill and died from the disease, that death would likely occur well before any evidentiary Hearing to decide the matter. Because of the devastating impact of serious COVID-19 on the lungs, it is doubtful the employee could even provide any useful testimony before his or her death. 

In the worst cases, the healthcare worker could die from the disease. In both North Carolina and Virginia, the families of deceased employees are typically entitled to payment for the funeral and burial up to a preset amount and compensation for lost income up to a preset amount of time. For example, death benefits in North Carolina are paid for up to 500 weeks with some exceptions.

Does this situation not seem very unfair, particularly for our frontline healthcare workers who risk their lives for their fellow citizens? Should a nurse or doctor who is dying on a ventilator from COVID-19 have to worry that his or her family will get NO compensation whatsoever through that State’s Workers Compensation System? To further worry that they will have hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills hanging over their head, even if the healthcare worker should recover from the virus? 

The good news is there is an easy fix, which exists for some other diseases already, and that is to provide a presumption in the law for any healthcare worker who becomes ill from COVID-19 that their illness came from work and therefore is compensable as an Occupational Disease. 

Unfortunately, Virginia has seen fit to take no action thus far to provide any such presumption. 

See my video where I have pointed out this horrible situation and pleaded with my fellow Virginians to contact their State Representatives and Senators to pass a bill giving our healthcare workers battling COVID-19 a presumption for workers comp coverage. 

 Many states have recognized this terrible problem facing healthcare workers and other essential workers who become ill from COVID-19  and have taken action. 

Fortunately, in North Carolina two bills under consideration, House Bill 1056 will make COVID-19 or any Coronavirus a covered occupational disease for healthcare workers, and other first responders, and House Bill 1057 provides a presumption not just to healthcare workers, but all workers considered “essential” under Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order, that if they contract COVID-19, it will be presumed to be a compensable workers compensation illness.  

North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injured workers for more than 31 years. He is available to speak with new clients about work injury claims during the COVID-19 health crisis. He understands the legal issues involved in filing claims for all types of accidents and occupational illnesses. For help now, call Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-694-1671 or use my online contact form to talk to an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.

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