On Saturday, February 27, 2021, The Virginia General Assembly passed several bills that will allow health care workers and first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they are disabled or die due to COVID-19.
House Bill 1985 expanded workers’ compensation benefits for health care workers “directly involved in diagnosing or treating persons known or suspected to have COVID-19,” including doctors and nurses. The bill provides coverage from March 12, 2020, until Dec. 31, 2021. The bill expands presumptions for occupational disease provided under VA Code 65.2-401.1 for these classes of workers in include healthcare workers who become ill from COVID-19.
The health care worker must have been treated for COVID-19 symptoms and been diagnosed by a medical provider with COVID-19 to qualify for compensation if the illness occurred before July 1, 2020. For COVID-19 illness that occurs after that date, there must not just be a clinical diagnosis, but also an actual positive COVID-19 test to be eligible for compensation under this new amended section.
The bill also said health care workers who refuse or fail to get vaccinated for COVID-19 will not be eligible for workers’ compensation. But if a physician determines vaccination will risk the worker’s health, that exclusion does not apply.
I have been saying for months that it was a mistake for the Virginia Legislature to attempt to be too broad and include too many occupations into this proposed presumption provision. It would prove too expensive for the tastes of our politicians and end up defeating the legislation, which is precisely what happened in the last 2020 session.
Fortunately, the legislative negotiation process worked, and lawmakers were able to work out a compromise that protects those who are most at risk, namely, those heroes among us who are directly involved in treating or diagnosing COVID-19 patients. In correspondence with several members of our General Assembly, I suggested this type of language. I am not saying they listened to me specifically, but I am certainly glad we were of like mind on this issue.
In addition to the bill on COVID-19 Healthcare workers, Senate Bill 1375 and HB 2207 cover workers’ compensation for first responders who were diagnosed with, or died from COVID-19 on or after September 1, 2020. The measures include firefighters, police officers, correctional and regional jail officers, and emergency medical services workers. The bills require an official diagnosis through a positive COVID-19 test and symptoms of the disease.
Kudos to all those lawmakers who sponsored these bills and worked hard to get them through. As someone who represents injured workers in Virginia and North Carolina, it is heartening to know that our elected officials are finally looking out for those who are looking out for us during this terrible pandemic.
As noted in previous posts, under current law, COVID-19 is considered an “ordinary disease of life,” and accordingly subject to the very high “clear and convincing evidence” standard of proof, making it extremely difficult for anyone to bring a claim for benefits due to COVID illness or death.
Once the new bills become law on July 1, 2021, COVID-19 will be included as an enumerated occupational disease, meaning that health care providers who got sick from COVID-19 who treated COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 patients as well as first responders will have a much easier time of successfully pursuing a worker’s compensation claim for that illness. The same applies to the families of such workers who may be attempting to bring a worker’s compensation claim due to the tragic death of such persons from COVID-19.
If you or a loved one have suffered from COVID-19 or a loved one has passed away from COVID-19 and you or your loved one were either a healthcare worker who directly treated or diagnosed COVID-19 patients, or a firefighter, police officer, correctional or regional jail officer, or emergency medical services worker, please do not hesitate to give our office a call. Our lawmakers have now made it much easier to successfully proceed with a claim for benefits for COVID-19 illness under the Virginia Workers Compensation Act for these classes of citizens in our Commonwealth. Please contact us by calling us at 757-694-1671 or reaching us via our website at www.joemillerinjurylaw.com