The coronavirus has been devastating. Between being a far-reaching pandemic and creating economic damage, COVID-19 and its effects will linger for years to come. To initiate a rebuild, government officials must weigh economic revitalization with the importance of safety measures and worker compensation. With this difficult balance, some lawmakers are crafting bills that may restrict employee coronavirus compensation claims.
Although changes are ongoing, expect workers’ compensation to be a prominent COVID-19 response issue.
Many of the current COVID-19 workers’ compensation laws are at the state level and vary greatly from one another. In California, for example, a worker’s coronavirus contraction is legally assumed to have occurred at the workplace, unless proven otherwise. This order means that the burden of proof is placed on the employer to demonstrate the employee contracted the virus elsewhere. In other states, however, proving the contraction happened in the workplace may be the employee’s duty.
Even with the most stringent standards for meeting liability, infected workers may still bring cases against employers who do not provide an established duty of care. Breaches in this duty of care may include not providing personal protective equipment (PPE) or preventing employees from calling out sick. Most of these cases would have to go through the workers’ compensation process, not as negligence claims, unless a “gross negligence” standard is met.
Since COVID-19 is ongoing, it is unknown how the virus may affect either process.
The main reason why limited liability proponents seek additional protection is to help restart the economy. Many businesses, especially small businesses, lost income during the coronavirus shutdown.
With the uncertainty surrounding additional shutdowns and coronavirus measures, those businesses could potentially lose even more. By implementing liability protections for employers, the business may earn protection from factors outside of its direct control – like customers violating social distancing guidelines – which could lead to employee transmission. If passed, they can reopen their businesses with confidence.
This liability protection would help prevent unnecessary lawsuits, saving valuable time and money for a small business. Thus, the immunity could help spur business reopenings without the fear of making mistakes or proving where transmission occurred. Still, some workers’ rights groups and unions are worried these protections could spell unfair results for normal employees.
Implication on Workers
The main worker’s concern is that these liability protections could inadvertently incentivize businesses to reopen without taking the proper worker safety precautions. This could include not providing PPE, enforcing social distancing standards, or failing to disinfect work areas. If certain liability protections pass, workers who need to work could be put in danger.
While there will likely be specific guidelines for what constitutes a breach of duty or “gross negligence,” these liability protections could be ever-evolving with new COVID-19 developments. Still, critics point out there is a chance that this liability would not only apply to small businesses, but large corporations as well. This means that big business and insurance companies could be prioritized over employee COVID-19 protection.
Sorting Through a Case
Since COVID-19 is an ongoing pandemic, expect to see updated state and federal workers’ compensation legislation. Whether it includes worker protections or business protections, however, is to be determined. With these different factors and new safety requirements, COVID-19 workers’ compensation cases may become complicated. For that reason, it is essential to discuss the case with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney.
“If you believe you were infected by the coronavirus while working, speak with an attorney right away,” says attorney Ryan McKeen or the Connecticut Trial Firm, LLC. “Doing so can help you conduct an investigation, build a case and get ahead of the claim. Things can instantly change, so contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your coronavirus claims case immediately.”
As Attorney Ryan McKeen suggests, the coronavirus and a patient’s health can flip at a moment’s notice. This makes getting ahead of a potential workers’ compensation case so vital since it enables the attorney to conduct a workplace investigation, assess coronavirus risks at the time of transmission and note subsequent health issues. These actions can help strengthen a case and make it stand apart from other COVID-19 cases the court may hear.
Overall, legislators at different levels nationwide must weigh the various COVID-19 complications. Namely, employee rights must be balanced with the importance of reopening the economy. It will be a long road of recovery after the coronavirus, and legislation will be a major topic of contention, particularly with regards to workers’ compensation.