The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) health crisis has caused global upheaval, along with massive economic disruption nationwide.
Closure of factories and offices, restaurants and bars and eliminating congregation of even small numbers of people has caused lots of fear and speculation. As workers’ compensation lawyers, some issues are important for employers and injured workers:
1) Is contracting COVID-19 work-related?
If a worker contracts the virus, the question is whether the condition can be paid under workers’ comp? In Wisconsin, it generally depends on whether the worker’s doctor says the exposure more likely than not came from work, and not from other, non-work exposures. Evidence of specific exposure in the workplace setting may be important, but certain workplace settings (health care or close workplace arrangements) could result in a reasonable inference about exposure to the virus.
The state worker’s compensation department (DWD) issued the following notice on compensability of COVID-19: https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/covid19/public/wc.htm
2) If I have COVID-19 from work and cannot work because of it, how do I get paid?
If a doctor supports the absence as being work-related, temporary total disability (TTD), at 2/3 of worker’s gross salary, is the weekly benefit during the entire recovery period.
3) What if my company shuts down due to the health crisis, and I’m under physical restrictions from a different work injury?
For example, if a worker had a prior low back injury, and she had returned to accommodated light duty work for her employer for the past few months. Due to the coronavirus situation or the Wisconsin state order, the employer now temporarily closed down the company or office-leaving the worker off work (but still under physical limits from a work injury). In these situations, we believe temporary total disability (TTD), or lost time benefits, still would be due for the worker who would otherwise be able to return to work but cannot due to a state order.
The worker should contact their work comp insurance adjuster to inform them of their off-work status and to initiate TTD payments.
4) If my employer remains open, and I’m afraid I might contract Covid-19 there, do I have to work?
With Wisconsin’s safer at home order, certain business are listed as “essential” and can remain open
If a worker (whether injured or not) has a concern about the safety of an employer’s workplace that remains open, the recourse is with OSHA to make a complaint.
For those workers that are under physical limitations from a work injury (and the employer is accommodating those physical limitations), if the employee believes they are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the circumstances of employment, rejecting the continued offer of accommodated work likely would be reasonable. The worker then may be eligible for continued TTD benefits.