After months of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both employers and employees are considering the difficult decision of whether to discontinue their practice of working from home. One question our clients ask is whether workers’ compensation insurance would cover an employee’s infection with COVID-19 and would the cost of treatment and days missed impact an employer’s experience rating. There is no simple answer.
Generally workers’ compensation benefits are linked to injuries for which the employment increases the risk of occurrence. A highly communicable disease like COVID-19 creates a baseline risk that members of the general public will contract the disease. The nature of some employments may expose employees to the risk of contracting a communicable disease above and beyond the baseline risk faced by all members of the public, but it may be difficult to prove a highly contagious virus was contracted at work rather than from non-occupational exposure. If disputed, the North Carolina Industrial Commission decides factual disagreements based on the preponderance of the evidence, and an employee claiming benefits must prove their claim if denied.
An employee who lives alone, isolates at home, disinfects/cleans regularly, and wears PPE at home may have a more convincing claim than a coworker who resides with others and does not take protective measures outside of the workplace. A known, direct exposure at work could support an employee’s allegation if the exposure was not the result of a routine job function. As an example, an employee assaulted at work and exposed to the virus by their assailant might have a compelling injury by accident claim if they contracted the disease in a pertinent time frame. Absent a serious case, there is minimal benefit under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Asymptomatic cases don’t require treatment and don’t impair a person’s ability to work. Cases that resolve in less than 3 weeks may pay just 2 weeks of compensation. Serious cases could involve extensive medical payments, prolonged disability payments, and possibly the payment of death benefits.
If you have any legal issue involving the above topic or another Workers’ Compensation Insurance Defense matter, please contact Anderson Jones Attorneys by email or (919) 277-2541.