Can You Get Workers’ Compensation for Contracting COVID-19?
As of this writing, there have been more than 150,000 cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey. Many of these people were exposed to the virus while at work. The question exists as to whether they can qualify for workers’ compensation benefits to pay them for their lost wages, medical bills, and other damages.
COVID-19 Would Be Compensable
The general answer is that you can file a workers’ compensation claim if you got COVID-19 at work. However, it is not always as simple as it seems. While these benefits exist in theory, it is not always easy to prove that you qualify for them.
First of all, COVID-19 would be considered a work-related injury for purposes of workers’ compensation. It is an illness that is caused by something that you are exposed to while at work. If you miss time for work or incur medical costs, the workers’ compensation fund should presumably cover the costs. If you believe that you have contracted COVID-19 while at work, you should immediately report it as a work-related injury.
Proving Causation May Be a Challenge
However, while your eligibility for workers’ compensation when you contracted coronavirus at work is not in doubt, what is more difficult is proving that you contracted COVID-19 while on the job. One of the requirements to be eligible for benefits is that it must be a work-related injury. This means that it must occur when you are on the job.
What is difficult is when you are dealing with a pandemic that has struck practically every part of our society. When this is the case, you may have some difficulty proving that you contracted COVID-19 at work. Your employer does not want you to get workers’ compensation, so they may challenge you when you file a COVID-19 claim. Without an army of contact tracers to figure out the origin of every single case, one would be hard-pressed to show exactly where they were exposed to the virus. Since the burden of proof is on the person filing for benefits, it is a heavy lift to meet this requirement. However, it is not impossible to show that it is more likely than not that you contracted COVID-19 while at work.
In the past, New Jersey has required a level of proof that means the claimant must show it is “more probable than not” that they contracted a virus or disease at work. This is a lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” that is necessary in a criminal case. However, this is still not an easy burden to meet as a Morristown workers’ compensation lawyer would advise you. One example of this is an old case in which the claimant was a groundskeeper at a country club. On appeal, the court looked at where he went during his job and compared the time he spent in the grass at work to the time he spent gardening at home in finding that he qualified for workers’ compensation benefits.
A Pending Bill May Help
The good news is that help may be on the way for some New Jersey employees who have gotten COVID-19 at work. There is a bill pending in the New Jersey State Senate that would give a presumption that certain employees who got coronavirus contracted it while on the job. The key is that the employee is considered an “essential worker” based on the definition in the legislation. For instance, public safety workers already have a presumption that they contracted COVID-19 while at work.
Here, essential workers include many different types of employees. The legislation would cover health care workers as well as employees in the private sector who perform functions that are “essential to the public’s health, safety, and welfare.” In addition, anyone who Governor Murphy has declared essential for purposes of not having to follow the stay-at-home order would receive benefits. This includes grocery store clerks and retail workers.
If you have contracted COVID-19 and believe that it happened at work, contact a Morristown workers’ compensation lawyer like Gregg A. Wisotsky, Esq. Call our office today at (973) 898-0161 to schedule your initial consultation.