The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated New York State. In the first seven weeks since the first case was confirmed here on March 1, 2020, more than 250,000 New Yorkers were known to be infected with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and more than 15,000 died.
Many of the affected are “essential workers” — including those in healthcare, utilities, media, grocery, shipping, and warehousing — who continued to work during shelter-in-place orders and may have been exposed to this highly contagious virus on the job.
For those workers who miss job time, federal and state emergency sick leave laws provide up to two weeks of pay for most workers who are diagnosed with or displaying symptoms of COVID-19.
But the effects of the virus can last well beyond two weeks. Many people suffer long-lasting health impacts that experts are still trying to understand. In those cases, workers’ compensation benefits may be available. New York’s Attorney General has written: “Employees that contract COVID-19 at their place of work may be entitled to workers’ compensation insurance during any treatment or recovery.”
How Can I Prove I Was Exposed at Work?
In order to receive any workers’ compensation benefits, you must be able to connect your injury or illness to your job. Demonstrating you were injured in an on-the-job accident, such as a fall or equipment failure, is usually straightforward.
But the coronavirus, like any virus, is not contained in a work environment alone. You could contract it anywhere, and this may complicate your claim.
According to the CDC, it can take up to two weeks from the time of exposure for any symptoms to appear. If you fall ill, first notify your employer immediately. Then reach out to your healthcare provider to inquire about being tested for the coronavirus. Then make the best notes you can about who you may have been around on the job. Contact tracing, which is the practice of tracking the spread of a virus by following contacts with infected people, may allow you to show that you have been close to a number of people at work who have since tested positive.
How Are Claims Being Handled During COVID-19?
Clarissa Rodriguez, the chairperson of the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB), sent a letter to workers’ comp carriers and payers in mid-April 2020 with guidelines for handling workers’ compensation during the pandemic. The key direction in her letter included:
- Encouraging workers who develop COVID-19 during the course of their employment to file claims
- Reminding carriers and payers that it is illegal to discriminate or take any retribution against anyone who plans to file a claim
- Paying claims without accepting liability, even if the claim may not be compensable, rather than disputing the claim
During the disaster emergency declared by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 7, the WCB is changing certain procedures for all claims, whether or not those claims are coronavirus related. Important ones to know include:
- All WCB hearings are remote. You can attend either by video or phone.
- If you fail to attend an independent medical examination (IME), your benefits will not be suspended if you have a “reasonable excuse” for not attending.
- The 90-day time limit for obtaining medical evidence of an ongoing disability can be waived if you can show that you were unable to get a medical report due to the pandemic.
What Kind of Workers’ Comp Benefits Can I Receive?
Workers’ compensation benefits in New York State include reimbursement for medical treatment, cash payments for lost wages due to illness or injury, and death benefits.
- Cash payments for lost wages are calculated by figuring two-thirds of your weekly salary and multiplying by your percentage of disability, up to a maximum of $934.11 per week.
- Medical treatment for COVID-19 could be extensive if you suffer from a serious case of the illness. Ongoing recovery from the illness should be covered as long as your claim remains open.
- Death benefits are also available to legal dependents of those who die from a work-related incident such as contracting COVID-19. These weekly benefits equal two-thirds of the deceased worker’s average weekly earnings in the year before the incident.
New information emerges daily about the COVID-19 pandemic. Response from the government is fluid. The office of Paul Giannetti is monitoring developments and can help you understand how to obtain all the benefits you deserve. Call my office at (518) 243-8011 for a virtual consultation or complete the form on our contact page.
Q: Can I file a workers’ compensation claim if I get COVID-19 at work?
A: Yes, the New York State Attorney General has confirmed that workers’ comp benefits may be available for those who contract the coronavirus at work.
Q: What steps should I take if I think I was infected at work?
A: Notify your employer first, and then check with your healthcare provider about being tested for the coronavirus. Record your contacts at work for the previous two weeks, and isolate yourself to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Q: How can I prove I was infected at work?
A: It may be difficult to prove, but contact tracing can show that you were in close contact with others confirmed to have the virus. Know who you have been close to at work.
Q: What if I can’t show I was in close contact with infected people at work?
A: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board is recommending that workers’ comp carriers pay claims without accepting liability, even if the claim may not be compensable. Contact a workers’ compensation attorney to help you file a claim and earn the benefits you deserve.