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.