COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation

coronavirus sick
Image: Mohamed Hassan

Employers and workers would all like a simple set of rules that describe how the pandemic affects the workers’ compensation system. However, the system is very much in flux and is subject to widely varying state rules.

Is COVID-19 Subject to Workers’ Comp?

The answer is … maybe. An April 27 article in The Wall Street Journal highlighted the controversy about whether COVID-19 claims are eligible for workers’ compensation. Some states require that workers prove they were infected on the job, which can be very difficult. This requirement is in line with the traditional way workers’ comp operates. However, according to the WSJ, in some states, “front-line workers are presumed to be eligible for workers’ comp unless their insurance carrier can prove they were infected outside of work.”

The Workers Compensation Research Institute, an independent, not-for-profit research organization, noted in a recent release that “states vary in terms of the scope of workers covered and in terms of the burden of proof required by an ill worker to establish work-relatedness. A number of states’ laws and orders cover only first responders or health care workers. Others expand coverage to include other groups of workers deemed to be essential, e.g., grocery workers.”

Both employers and workers have to keep up with quickly changing rules to protect their rights and meet their obligations.

How Should Employers Treat Workers’ Comp Payments?

This is also complicated, and it’s quickly changing. The National Council on Compensation Insurance has noted that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act does not specifically address workers’ comp issues. However, the NCCI is “proposing to exclude qualified sick leave and/or family and medical leave payments under the act from the calculation of premium.”

Employers should keep a close watch on changes in their jurisdictions regarding the calculation of workers’ comp premiums.