The COVID-19 crisis has had an unprecedented effect on our nation’s economy and labor force. While it has caused the unemployment rate to soar to levels not seen since the Great Depression, it has also forced millions of employees into working from home, many for the first time. But not all jobs can be done from home; individuals who are deemed “essential” workers may still be expected or required to perform their job duties as normal. These workers are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and suffering severe illness as a result, and thus may be entitled to seek workers’ compensation benefits.
Below are answers to some of the most common questions our COVID-19 Long Island workers compensation lawyers receive regarding workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19 patients.
What Jobs Qualify for COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
In New York, almost all employees are eligible to apply for and receive workers’ compensation benefits, so long as their injury or illness is work-related. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, essential workers are at the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 either at work or as a result of their work duties. Employees who are most at risk include:
- First responders
- Medical personnel
- Nursing home staff
- Home healthcare workers
- Utility workers
- Construction workers
- Airline employees
- Retail workers
- Restaurant workers
- Bank employees
- Government employees
- Corrections officers
- Mail carriers
- Delivery providers
- Transportation workers
Regardless of the type of work you do or in what industry, if you believe you contracted COVID-19 as a result of your employment, you may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
What Benefits Are Available to Sick Workers?
All workers are eligible for the same workers’ compensation benefits, although the amount they receive will differ. Workers’ compensation benefits in New York come in three types:
- Cash benefits: Eligible claimants may receive up to 2/3 of their average weekly wage multiplied by the percentage of their disability (2/3 x average weekly wage x % of disability = weekly benefit).
- Medical benefits: The workers’ compensation program provides full medical benefits for all medical care directly related to the on-the-job injury, so long as the health care provider is authorized by the New York Workers’ Compensation Board.
- Death benefits: If the worker dies from his or her injuries, the employee’s surviving spouse and minor children are entitled to a weekly benefit equal to two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wage for the year prior to the accident. The program also may provide funeral expenses.
Does COVID-19 Qualify as a “Work-Related” Illness?
The primary eligibility criteria for receiving workers’ compensation benefits is that the employee’s injury or illness was work-related, or “arising out of and in the course of the employment.” The most straightforward example of a work-related injury is an injury sustained at work while performing a job duty, such as falling off a ladder while restocking shelves. The program also covers work-related illnesses and occupational diseases, such as respiratory illnesses, cancers, and vision and hearing loss.
The question for COVID-19 patients who wish to apply for workers’ compensation benefits is whether their exposure arose out of or in the course of their employment. The infected worker should obtain medical documentation from his or her healthcare provider connecting the exposure to the workplace, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty. There is also a question of whether a contagious illness like COVID-19 can truly be considered a “work-related,” since it is not actually caused by the worker’s job duties.
However, there is legal precedent in New York for considering contagious illnesses work-related if the nature of the employee’s work puts them at a high risk of exposure. In Lachowicz v. Albany Med. Ctr. Hosp., 30 A.D.2d 1004 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep’t 1968), the court held that a maintenance worker in a tuberculosis ward was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits after contracting the disease, even though he had not come into direct contact with a specific infected patient. Rather, the nature of his work alone — coming into close proximity to patients to make repairs — was enough. Workers in professions that put them at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 may also be entitled to benefits based on similar reasoning.
What Should I Do if I Was Diagnosed with Coronavirus at Work?
At the present time, individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19 at work should follow the CDC’s guidelines:
- Stay home except to get medical care
- Separate yourself from other people
- Monitor your symptoms
- Call ahead before visiting your doctor
- Wear a cloth covering over your nose and mouth
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid sharing personal household items
- Clean “high-touch” surfaces every day
If you suspect that you contracted COVID-19 at work and you would like to pursue workers’ compensation benefits, you will also need to submit an Employee Claim (C-3) form to the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board within two years after the exposure date. Please contact our coronavirus Long Island workers compensation lawyers for assistance in doing so.
How Can a COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in Long Island Help Me?
Workers’ compensation lawyers know the complex law and procedure of the workers’ compensation system, and can help you present the strongest case possible. A workers’ compensation lawyer can be particularly helpful when applying for benefits based on novel or non-standard illnesses and injuries (such as COVID-19), because he or she will be able to craft unique and persuasive arguments on your behalf. Our attorneys have extensive experience representing injured and ill workers before the New York State Workers Compensation Board and are confident that we can help you maximize your chances of obtaining the benefits you deserve.
Contact the COVID-19 Long Island Workers Compensation Lawyers at Turley, Redmond and Rosasco for More Information
If you think that you have been exposed to COVID-19 at work because you work in a high-risk profession, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. To discuss your options further, please contact our COVID-19 Long Island workers compensation lawyers by filling out our online form or calling us at 516-745-5666 (Garden City), 631-582-3700 (Ronkonkoma), or 631-399-0400 (Shirley).