With COVID-19 ever-present on our minds, we’re always wondering what it will affect next. It’s changed the way we do everything. The latest change is the eligibility requirements for workers’ compensation.
According to the Department of Labor (DOL), the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) gives federal employees the right to file for compensation after contracting COVID while on the job. Thus far, around 3,500 federal employees have been given injury compensation as well as death benefits to 14 others, according to Fox 5 Atlanta.
“There have been 6,620 COVID-19 FECA claims, of which 3,477 have been accepted, 339 were denied, 191 have been withdrawn, and 2,613 are unadjudicated,” a DOL spokesperson said. “There have been 91 COVID-19 death claims, of which 14 have been accepted, 9 have been withdrawn, and 68 are unadjudicated.”
The tricky part about this compensation is that it’s often hard to prove that the disease was actually contracted at work. However, certain jobs are more high risk, such as first responders, hospital staff and law enforcement, and therefore seeking benefits may come easier.
“In such cases, there is an implicit recognition that a higher likelihood exists of infection due to high-risk employment,” the DOL spokesperson said. “Federal workers in such positions routinely encounter situations that may lead to infection by contact with sneezes, droplet infection, bodily secretions, and surfaces on which the COVID-19 virus may reside.”
If a federal employee’s claim is accepted through the FECA program, then the worker will be entitled to typical workers’ compensation benefits including medical services, supplies issued by a physician and any other related injury needs. If COVID-19 has disabled the worker, they are also eligible for up to 45 days of continuation of pay.
In the case of COVID-19 related death, the family of the deceased may be eligible for benefits such as the average weekly pay of the worker. Funeral expenses may also be included up to $800.
COVID-19 has created new challenges in the workplace, forcing workers, employers and insurers to reconsider how they handle issues like safety protocols, workplace injuries and workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers’ compensation for average Georgia employees
While this is good news on the federal level, what about everyday employees? Are non-government workers eligible for workers’ comp if they get COVID at work?
There is a precedent for occupational illnesses according to Georgia law:
Diseases which arise out of and in the course of the particular trade, occupation, process, or employment in which the employee is exposed to such disease, provided the employee or the employee’s dependents first prove to the satisfaction of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation all of the following:
(A) A direct causal connection between the conditions under which the work is performed and the disease;
(B) That the disease followed as a natural incident of exposure by reason of the employment;
(C) That the disease is not of a character to which the employee may have had substantial exposure outside of the employment;
(D) That the disease is not an ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed;
(E) That the disease must appear to have had its origin in a risk connected with the employment and to have flowed from that source as a natural consequence.
Unfortunately, under the current law, most Georgia workers won’t qualify for coronavirus-related workers’ compensation because the risk for catching COVID is so high outside of the workplace. It’s almost impossible to prove that you contracted it while on the job as opposed to somewhere else, such as the grocery store, gas station, etc.
But as we’ve seen, the rules keep changing as we learn more about COVID and we adjust appropriately. In the meantime, even if you aren’t eligible for workers’ compensation for COVID, you may have other options for receiving benefits in this pandemic.