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Workers’ Compensation Claims and COVID-19

Client Alert

Can one of my employees file a workers’ compensation claim if they claim that they contracted coronavirus at work?

We get that question a lot. Yes, they can, but you should oppose any application for coverage if you receive one.

Generally, the claim will not be granted unless the employee has a job that poses a special hazard or risk of exposure to the virus and the employee can prove that he or she contracted the virus at work.

Under Ohio law, compensable occupational diseases are those diseases that arise from employment activity. Because coronavirus can be contracted in a variety of different ways outside the workplace, it is presumed that the illness was contracted outside of work. Thus, it is very difficult for an employee tie his or her illness to the workplace.

Some states, such as Minnesota and California, have created a rebuttable presumption in favor of first responders and healthcare workers. This presumption assumes that these workers contracted COVID-19 at work unless their employer can prove that they contracted it outside of work.

As of May 29, 2020, seven bills have been introduced in the Ohio General Assembly proposing some version of the rebuttable presumption in favor of first responders (police officers, firefighters and EMT’s), corrections officers, nursing home workers, healthcare workers, retail food establishment workers, food processing establishment workers. 

One bill, H.B. 573, seeks the presumption for any employee required by their employer to work outside of their home during the state-declared public health emergency. This is likely a bridge too far for the Ohio General Assembly.

The bill closest to becoming law is H.B. 606.  This bill passed the Ohio House on May 28, 2020 and will now move on to the Ohio Senate. H.B. 606 would create a rebuttable presumption that the following workers are eligible for workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 between March 9, 2020 and December 31, 2020:

  • peace officers (police department employees, housing authority officers, state university law enforcement, public safety officers, ODNR law enforcement, and others);
  • firefighters (paid or volunteer);
  • emergency medical workers (paid or volunteer first responders, technicians and paramedics);
  • corrections officers (adult and juvenile);
  • employees of retail food establishments (any employer that uses its premises, in whole or in part, to store, process, prepare, manufacture, or otherwise hold or handle food for retail sale to the ultimate consumer – yes, this would include food trucks); and
  • employees of food processing establishments (any employer that that uses its premises, in whole or in part, to process, package, manufacture or otherwise hold or handle for distribution to another location or for sale at wholesale).

For additional information, please contact Adam D. Fuller, adfuller@bmdllc.com or 330.374.6737, or any member of the L+E Team at BMD.


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