Employment Question of the Day: April 9, 2020

April 9, 2020

By Ashley R. Thronson, Beverley L. Adams and Penny S. Oleson

Question

If an employee contracts COVID-19, is he or she entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits?

Answer

It depends—both on the applicable state law and the circumstances of how the virus was contracted.

Minnesota

In Minnesota, an employee with COVID-19 is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits only if he or she contracted the virus due to an exposure at work. Ordinarily, this would be difficult to prove. However, under a new amendment to the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act, certain infected employees in Minnesota are now presumed to have contracted COVID-19 as a result of their employment.

This new presumption applies to Minnesota employees who:

  1. Contracted COVID-19 on or after April 8, 2020 (the date of injury for these claims is the date the employee was unable to work due to a diagnosis of COVID-19 or symptoms later diagnosed as COVID-19, whichever occurs first);
  2. Tested positive for and/or have been medically diagnosed with COVID-19; and
  3. Work in one of the following occupations:
    • Licensed peace officer;
    • Firefighter;
    • Paramedic/emergency medical technician;
    • Nurse, health care worker, correctional officer or security counselor employed by the state or a political subdivision at a corrections, detention or secure treatment facility;
    • Health care provider, nurse or assistive employee employed in a health care, home care or long-term care setting, with direct COVID-­19 patient care or ancillary work in COVID-19 patient units; or
    • Workers required to provide childcare to first responders and health care workers under Executive Order 20­02 (Order to Temporary Close Schools) and Executive Order 20-19 (Distance Learning).

In these circumstances, employees are presumed to have contracted an occupational disease and are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The presumption can only be rebutted if the employer or insurer proves that employment was not a direct cause of the disease.

Employees who do not meet the above requirements may still be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19, but only if the employee proves that he or she contracted it at work. See DOLI Frequently Asked Questions.

North Dakota

Generally, employees in North Dakota who contract COVID-19 are not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits—even if they are infected at work. See WSI’s Frequently Asked Questions. However, as of March 13, 2020, there is an exception for frontline health care workers and first responders.

Per Governor Burgum’s Executive Order, the following employees are entitled to COVID-19-related workers’ compensation benefits:

  • Health care workers;
  • First responders, emergency medical technicians and other individuals trained and authorized by law or rule to render emergency medical assistance or treatment;
  • Firefighters;
  • Peace officers;
  • Correctional officers;
  • Court officers; and
  • Law enforcement officers.

Benefits include:

1.  Quarantine Pay and Medical Coverage: Eligible employees are entitled to up to 14 days of wage replacement and medical coverage if the employee:

    • Was exposed to COVID-19 in the course of employment (on or after March 13, 2020);
    • Was quarantined by order of a treating health care provider or public health official as a result of the exposure; and
    • Experienced wage loss during the period of quarantine and is not eligible for lost wage benefits from any other source.

2.  Workers’ Compensation Benefits: Eligible employees are entitled to wage replacement and medical coverage as provided in North Dakota’s Workers’ Compensation Act, if the employee:

    • Was exposed to COVID-19 during the pendency of the declared emergency;
    • Tested positive for COVID-19; and
    • Can demonstrate that the infection resulted from work-related exposure.

Iowa

Employees in Iowa may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19 only if there is a direct causal connection with the employment. Iowa has not yet issued any COVID-19-related workers’ compensation laws, rules or guidance. Employers with workers in Iowa should monitor government communications and/or the Iowa Division of Workers’ Compensation website for any new developments.

Other States

Employers in other states should check—and monitor—their applicable state laws to determine if and when their states’ workers’ compensation statutes cover COVID-19-related injuries. For assistance with this, or particular questions about a state not listed above, please contact one of the attorneys on our Workers’ Compensation and OSHA team.

Takeaways

  • Whether an employee is entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19 depends on each state’s workers’ compensation law and government’s response to the pandemic.
  • In Minnesota and Iowa, an employee is entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19 only if he or she contracted the virus as a result of his or her employment. In Minnesota, certain employees are presumed to have contracted it at work.
  • In North Dakota, employees are not entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19—even if they contracted it at work. There are exceptions for health care workers and frontline emergency personnel who were quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure or who can prove they contracted the virus as a result of work-related exposure.
  • Regardless of the employee’s occupation, the employer should file a First Report of Injury for any employee with COVID-19 who claims to have contracted it at work.

For questions about or assistance with a potential workers’ compensation claim, please reach out to one of the attorneys on our Workers’ Compensation and OSHA team.


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