The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented circumstances for the workers’ compensation industry. One of the most prominent issues is protecting employees who are exposed and/or contract COVID-19 from their workplace.
At the start of the pandemic, emergency state legislation included unemployment insurance and increased paid and unpaid sick time, however, this did not provide a solution for nurses, first responders, grocery store employees, and other essential employees who work in environments with higher chances of exposure.
To help mitigate this issue, states have begun passing legislation to expand presumption rules and provide essential workers with workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits allow employees access to pay if they need to quarantine, additional sick time if they contract the virus, as well as access to testing, medical services, and long-term family benefits.
Governor Newsom of California was the first governor to pass an executive order, stating all workers who test positive for the virus and do not exclusively work from home can qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. Since then, more states have begun revising their policies, passing new legislation to expand the presumption of compensability under workers’ compensation for public and private employees.
Illinois, for example, passed a bill that provides benefits to front-line and essential workers who contract the virus between March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020. This new legislation also provides death benefits to any first responders who tested positive for the virus or the antibodies. More recently, Arkansas issued an executive order that states COVID-19 is not included in “ordinary diseases of life”, and employees can, therefore, receive workers’ compensation benefits if they contract the virus at work. This order classifies healthcare workers as emergency workers, giving them the authority to use crisis standards of care in treating COVID-19 patients and immunity from civil liability.
As new information develops and more states revise legislation related to business continuity, the most important thing for employers to do is to communicate with their employees on their business action plan and take all preventative measures possible to limit exposure and spread.
CorVel continues to closely monitor new state legislation impacting compensability and policy coverage. View our legislative map with jurisdictional changes here.