COVID-19 continues to be a topic of concern and worry, affecting nearly every aspect of our lives. For people whose job requires them to work with the public and within close proximity to others, such as at warehouses, retail stores, restaurants, and health care facilities, the concern about contracting the virus and what they will happen if they do it’s especially troubling. In addition to the worries of illness and long-term health concerns, there is the financial worry. Medical bills can add up quickly, and even if symptoms aren’t severe, having to take off 14 days or more off work has people wondering how they will pay bills and put food on the table. This has all led to our attorneys frequently being asked if you can file for workers’ compensation if you get COVID-19, and the answer is more complicated than a “yes” or a “no.” That’s why we’re breaking down the issue to help better answer your questions.
Understanding Workers’ Compensation Eligibility and Benefits in NC
First, before we look at filing for workers’ compensation due to COVID-19, let’s look more closely at what workers’ compensation is and what kind of benefits it provides.
Nearly all employers in North Carolina are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance. This pays the medical bills, including hospitalization and medication, and also a percentage of the employee’s wages if they are unable to work due to illness or injury that was contracted or occurred while they were carrying out assigned job duties.
For example, if someone is working at a restaurant and slips on the floor and twists their ankle while bringing out a tray of food, they would most likely be receive worker’s compensation to pay for their treatment as well as cover some of their missed wages until they are cleared to go back to work by their medical provider.
Determining Illness Eligibility for Workers’ Compensation
While injury at work is fairly direct, proving that an illness was contracted is more difficult, particularly a highly contagious virus, like COVID-19. As laid out in North Carolina General Statute 97-53, there are 30 specific occupational diseases that include diagnoses like lead poisoning, chrome ulceration, and silicosis. However, there is a qualifier, stating that:
“Any disease, other than hearing loss covered in another subdivision of this section, which is proven to be due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment, but excluding all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of the employment.”
This qualifier can be used to rule against contracting COVID-19 in the workplace as a means for workers’ comp.
In addition, there are key factors that have to be met in order to meet the requirement that an illness is contracted solely within the course employment:
- The employee was at greater risk than the general population due to the duties of their job (such as healthcare workers);
- There is a clear trace from the place of employment to the employee contracting COVID-19;
- The disease has been identified as an occupational disease or hazard.
Is There Any Hope of Workers’ Compensation for COVID-19?
While it seems as though the law is against the side of the workers when it comes to having a claim for worker’s compensation approved for COVID-19, there is some good news. The National Council on Compensation Insurance has looked at the 50 states and has found that 10 states have issued mandates to require health insurance programs to cover COVID-19. While North Carolina has not passed a mandate, the legislature could take steps to protect essential worker.
Steps to Take If You Contract COVID-19 at Work
If you test positive for COVID-19 and believe you contracted it through your job, it’s important to follow these steps to improve the chance to be approved for workers’ compensation:
- Document potential exposures in CAD incident reports;
- Notify the employer immediately (or at least within 7 days) of being made aware you are positive for, or have unprotected exposure to someone who is positive for COVID-19 by completing a Notice of Accident/Illness form (C-1);
- Get medical treatment upon discovering the illness if necessary and submit the Claim for Compensation (C-4) to your employer;
Contact Our Raleigh Workers’ Compensation Attorneys
At Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler, & Thomas, LLP, we expect to see more lawsuits related to employees contracting COVID-19, especially due to unsafe working condition. If you would like to discuss a COVID-19 claim, reach out to our workers’ compensation attorneys in Raleigh today at 919-615-2473 or fill out the form below to learn more.