COVID-19 And Compensable Work Injuries

Life as we know it has been altered by the coronavirus pandemic. As private businesses and public agencies rush to prepare for the immediate future and accommodate the effects of the virus with everyday living, American workers have been enormously affected, perhaps the worst of any group. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, through various state agencies, has taken rapid measures to sustain the operation of the workers’ compensation system in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania workers currently have two ways for filing workers’ compensation claims related to the spread of the coronavirus.

“Disease-as-Injury” Workers’ Compensation Claims

An employee must show medical evidence that he or she contracted coronavirus within the workplace. As medical experts continue to research how, when, and where the coronavirus spreads, disease-as-injury claims may be difficult to prove.

In this case, proving that you contracted the virus after working at a convenience store, handling money and interacting with a countless number of people, would be difficult. You would have to prove that you contracted the coronavirus from one of these interactions, which would be almost impossible. An insurance carrier would argue that you caught the coronavirus from some other activity that was not work-related, and you would have to prove the contrary, which would be an almost insurmountable task.  

“Occupational Disease” Claims for Coronavirus

An employee must prove that the coronavirus is occurring at a higher rate in the employee’s occupation or industry than within the general population. For example, healthcare workers and first responders may contract coronavirus at a higher rate than telemarketers or online customer service representatives.

Workers who contract coronavirus and who are in an industry that has a higher risk of contracting it than the population as a whole may be more likely to receive workers’ compensation benefits by filing an occupational disease claim than a disease as an injury claim. In cases of the former, Pennsylvania law presumes that the cause of the disease is within the worker’s profession or industry, thus making occupational disease claims a less complicated path to benefit eligibility. 

Members of both the Pennsylvania House and Senate have proposed legislation to eliminate the burden of proof on certain occupational workers who have contracted the coronavirus. Under this legislation, COVID-19 will be presumed to be an occupational disease for employees of life-sustaining businesses and occupations. The legislature has considered the following occupations although this is not intended as an exhaustive list: Nurses, Doctors, Emergency Medical Technicians, Police, Firefighters, Pharmacists, and Grocery Store employees.

If this legislation becomes law, those workers in the aforementioned fields who contract the coronavirus will have the presumption of causation, i.e., that the illness is work-related. The burden of proof would then shift to the employer who would have to prove otherwise – that the illness was not work-related. This changes the burden on workers as it is presently, where they must prove that they contracted the virus at work and not from other sources.

Pennsylvania law allows a worker 120 days from the date of the occurrence of an injury or illness or from the date a worker knew or had reason to believe it was work-related to give notice to an employer that he or she contracted an illness in the workplace. However, workers should report an illness to their employer as soon as possible after a positive diagnosis.

For occupational diseases, Pennsylvania law gives workers 300 weeks, or just less than six years, after their last exposure to prove they suffered damages as the result of a disease. However, an injured worker still must file within three years from the date he or she knew or had reason to believe a condition was work-related. 

The process for filing and receiving approval of workers’ compensation claims in Pennsylvania is complicated. Claimants are required to provide a long list of information in the form of medical records and other necessary documentation. This information must be collected, organized, and presented within certain procedures and deadlines. Powell Law has represented injured workers for 115 years and has a distinguished reputation throughout northeastern Pennsylvania for adhering to the highest standards in serving those injured on the job. Contact Powell Law at (570) 961-0777. The consultation is FREE, and you don’t pay unless we win!

COVID-19 And Compensable Work Injuries

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