The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak continues to affect all aspects of everyday life in our country, including workplaces.
Businesses across the United States are temporarily closing or asking employees to work from home to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. In Kern County, many are still being asked to go to work, while other workers are having to choose between staying home or going to work to get a pay check.
But what if you become ill or contract coronavirus due to work conditions? What benefits are available should you be out of work from illness associated with the virus?
Read below to learn what responsibility employers have to keep workers safe, benefits available to workers affected by the coronavirus outbreak, and steps you can take in the case you contract coronavirus from work.
Workplace safety and health regulations in California require employers to protect workers exposed to airborne infectious diseases such as the coronavirus. Cal/OSHA has posted guidance to help employers comply with these safety requirements and to provide workers information on how to protect themselves.
Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard (Section 5199) also requires protection for employees working at health care facilities, and other services and operations, including:
- Hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, clinics, medical offices, outpatient medical facilities, home health care, long-term health care facilities, hospices, medical outreach services, medical transport and emergency medical services.
- Certain laboratories, public health services and police services that are reasonably anticipated to expose employees to an aerosol transmissible disease.
- Correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and drug treatment programs.
To protect workers and prevent exposure to viruses, employers must develop and maintain the required programs and plans for their facility or operation. More resources from Cal/OSHA to protect workers can be found by clicking here.
Coronavirus and workers’ compensation
The workers’ compensation system in California is a no-fault system, meaning that an employee claiming a work-related injury does not need to prove negligence on the part of the employer. Instead, the employee need only prove that the injury occurred at work and was proximately caused by their employment.
But since the virus is not an “injury” per say, it is categorized as an “occupational disease.” To be an occupational disease, an employee must generally show two things:
- The illness or disease must be “occupational,” meaning that it arose out of and was in the course of employment.
- The illness or disease must arise out of, or be caused by, conditions peculiar to the work and creates a risk of contracting the disease in a greater degree and in a different manner than in the public generally.
Special consideration is given to health care workers and first responders, as these employees will likely enjoy a presumption that any communicable disease was contracted as the result of employment. This would also include nurses and physicians who are exposed to the virus while at the worksite.
For other categories of employees, benefits for a workers’ compensation claim will be determined on a case-by-case basis. The key point will be whether the employee contracted the virus at work and whether the contraction of the disease was “peculiar” to their employment. Even if the employer takes all of the right steps to protect the employees from exposure, a benefits claim may be determined where the worker can show that they contracted the virus after an exposure, the exposure was distinctive to the work, and there are no alternative means of exposure demonstrated.
As of now, an employee seeking workers’ compensation benefits for a coronavirus infection will have to provide medical evidence to support the claim.
Finally, states are taking action on this specific issue. Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries changed its policies for health care workers and first responders to “provide benefits to these workers during the time they’re quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19 on the job.” Other states may follow.
Update: On May 6, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order made it easier for essential workers who contract COVID-19 to obtain workers’ compensations benefits. The order streamlined workers’ compensation claims and established a rebuttable presumption that any essential workers infected with COVID-19 contracted the virus on the job. In effect, the change shifts the burden of proof that typically falls on workers and instead requires companies or insurers to prove that the employees didn’t get sick at work.The change covers claims filed for 60 days from the May 6 announcement and is retroactive to claims filed as early as March 19. The new rules apply to workers who tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of performing work, or those who received a diagnosis within 14 days that was confirmed by a positive test no more than 30 days later. Employers have 30 days to rebut a claim.
Benefits available to infected workers
As discussed, if you are unable to do your usual job because you were exposed to and contracted COVID-19 during the regular course of your work, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
Those benefits include temporary disability (TD) payments, which begin when your doctor says you can’t do your usual work for more than three days or you are hospitalized overnight, according to California’s Labor & Workforce Development Agency. You may be entitled to TD for up to 104 weeks. Those disability payments stops when either you return to work, your doctor releases you for work, or your doctor says your illness has improved as much as it’s going to. This generally pays two-thirds of the gross wages you lose while you are recovering from a work-related illness or injury, up to maximum weekly amount set by law.
In addition, eligible employees are entitled to medical treatment and additional payments if a doctor determines you suffered a permanent disability because of the illness.
Other work benefits
If you get sick or are quarantined, here’s what you can do: First, California’s paid sick leave law provides time off to many workers. You are entitled to use whatever sick leave you have accumulated. But in the event of a particularly long illness, you may be eligible for disability benefits, provided your illness is certified by a medical professional.
California’s Employment Development Department will now waive the one-week waiting period for people who are disabled as a result of COVID-19, according to an executive order. The Employment Development Department also provides a variety of support services to individuals affected.
- Caregiving: If you are unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19, you can file a Paid Family Leave (PFL) claim. PFL provides up to six weeks of benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages because they need time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week. If you are eligible, the EDD processes and issues payments within a few weeks of receiving a claim.
- Childcare: If you have child care concerns as a result of coronavirus, the California EDD says you may be eligible for benefits. If your child’s school is closed, and you have to miss work to be there for them, you may be eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits. Eligibility considerations include if you have no other care options and if you are unable to continue working your normal hours remotely. File an Unemployment Insurance claim and our EDD representatives will decide if you are eligible.
- Reduced Hours: If your employer has reduced your hours or shut down operations due to COVID-19, you can file an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim. UI provides partial wage replacement benefit payments to workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced, through no fault of their own. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19 and expected to return to work with their employer within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week. However, they must remain able and available and ready to work during their unemployment for each week of benefits claimed and meet all other eligibility criteria. Eligible individuals can receive benefits that range from $40-$450 per week.
- Exposed to Coronavirus: If you’re unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim. DI provides short-term benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week.
Message to our clients
Like all of you, we continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 outbreak around the world, and especially in our own community.
Chain | Cohn | Stiles remains dedicated to helping injured clients from throughout Kern County.
Our law firm prides itself on giving people direct access to the attorneys and staff who are working on their cases, and this will continue. Should you need to speak with our attorneys for any reason, we are available any time by phone, email, and chat on our website.
As for those who we’re currently helping with cases, we are still here for you. We ask that you call or email us with any questions you may have on your case. If we can respond to your questions or concerns over the telephone, or by way of email, we will make every effort to do so. In accordance with CDC recommendation we are trying to minimize in-person meetings, when possible. However, should you desire to meet with your attorney or other staff member in person, we will make every effort to accommodate that meeting.
As always, you can reach out to us at any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In the meantime, please take care of yourself and your family.
If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, contract an illness at work, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.
- Virus concerns begin to reshape local workplaces (The Bakersfield Californian – March 15, 2020) (online version)
- Video — Chain | Cohn | Stiles: “Today and Always, We Are Here For You”