The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus is expected to rise over the next coming weeks. Long Islanders who may end up in quarantine or unable to work due to on-the-job exposure to coronavirus may be asking themselves, what access do they have to workers’ compensation benefits? Long Island local Edward Guldi, workers’ compensation attorney at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., is giving advice that will empower affected workers.
Q: Which occupations can receive workers’ compensation benefits for coronavirus? Is there standing case law to support a worker’s benefits claim for infectious diseases?
A: Coronavirus exposure and contracture can fall under workers’ compensation law, either as an accident or an occupational disease. As defined by New York’s workers’ compensation law, an accident occurs when there is a clear nexus between a specific event and a condition that arises therefrom. An occupational disease is defined as a disease resulting from the nature of employment and contracted therein. Under the current workers’ compensation law, there is significant precedent for being found compensable from past epidemics, most notably tuberculosis and HIV infections.
The difference between accidents and occupational disease is litigated regularly in front of the worker’s compensation board for three reasons. For an accident, the worker must prove that a specific incident caused the injury happened at work and the case must be filed within two years of the worker contracting the disease. This was difficult for claimants to prove because, back then, there was a long diagnosis time frame for HIV. For an occupational disease, the employer’s insurance company must prove that the claimant contracted the disease somewhere else and knew or should have known they contracted it at work for more than two years. It’s important to note that any worker who can prove that he or she was exposed at work on a specific date, in a particular location, and due to a specific incident can file an accident claim within two years.
Q: How long do claimants need to be out of work for benefits to apply?
A. For workers’ compensation benefits, there is a one week waiting period for indemnity benefits (payments for lost time), which will thereafter pay two-thirds of someone’s gross wage up to the statutory maximum, which is currently $933 a week. To collect this benefit, it is necessary to have medical evidence which states a percentage of disability, which will also affect the payments so that someone who is 50 percent disabled will collect one-third of their pay.
Q: Should employers be providing a plan to protect workers?
A. Employers who are mindful of their insurance premiums should absolutely have a plan in place to limit their employees’ exposure, especially in health care occupations, where the occupational disease requirements will be met. But also in any job where there might be accidental exposure as worker’s compensation does not consider negligence if exposure at work is proven. If possible, have staff that can work from home.
Q. Would an infected person qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)?
A: FMLA would apply to coronavirus infection as it applies to all injuries and illnesses.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
A: Employers should also be aware that no amount of preparedness will protect them from liability.