Can Contracting COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Be a Worker’s Compensation Injury?
Yes. In fact, most viruses and infections can be compensable under Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation law, depending on the circumstances surrounding how and when a worker contracts the illness.
Did the Worker Contract Coronavirus in the Workplace?
One of the biggest hurdles in claiming a COVID-19 infection as worker’s compensation will be getting a doctor to provide an opinion to a reasonable degree of medical probability that a worker contracted the virus while in the course and scope of employment, as opposed to contracting it while not working. If a doctor does not think it is likely that a worker contracted coronavirus at work, the worker is not eligible for workers compensation benefits.
Criteria for Worker’s Compensation Eligibility
Eligibility for Wisconsin worker’s compensation benefits depends on two important criteria:
Criterion #1: You must develop your injury or illness in the course and scope of employment. In other words, the injury or illness happened while performing work activities or taking a short deviation from work activities.
Criterion #2: The condition – in the case of COVID-19, a viral infection – must arise as a result of your employment. This means a worker contracted the virus as a result of work activities, or that work circumstances placed the worker in the time and place where the infection occurred.
Worker’s Compensation Claim Success May Vary By Profession
For medical professionals, first responders, or any other job where duties include interacting with suspected COVID-19 patients, it may not be difficult to obtain a doctor’s opinion that virus contraction likely resulted from work activities. Assuming the worker was otherwise following social distancing and other safety precautions, a doctor could say to a reasonable degree of medical probability (i.e. likelihood of 50.1% of more) that the work activities or the circumstances of employment gave rise to the infection.
For workers who experience substantial exposure to the general population, such as grocery store workers, airport workers, postal or delivery drivers, and other service industry jobs, it may not be as easy for a doctor to provide a supportive opinion. However, if the worker can assure the doctor that he or she was otherwise taking adequate precautions and the most probable place of exposure was the workplace as opposed to, for example, while out grocery shopping after work, a doctor could give such an opinion.
Documentation, such as notes created by the worker about preventative measures and dates they were instituted, or a daily journal of trips outside the home, could provide valuable supporting evidence that a doctor may incorporate into the opinion. Similarly, if household members provide written statements supporting your claims of quarantine outside work time, this can help your case.
4 Essential Steps If You Suspect You Have Contracted Coronavirus While Working
Any person who believes he or she has contracted COVID-19 (coronavirus) while working should immediately take the following steps:
- Create a detailed timeline of all contacts with other people that could have led to the infection.
- Include in the timeline all instances of face-touching following contact with surfaces that may have had the virus.
- Provide a detailed narrative of social distancing measures, hand-washing, and all other safety precautions that were undertaken while not working.
- Obtain medical records or any other documentation showing when, approximately, the infection occurred, if such documentation exists.
After Recovery, Contact a Doctor Regarding a Worker’s Compensation Claim
Following recovery, an infected worker or their family member should ask a treating doctor for an opinion on whether the virus was contracted while performing work activities. This opinion can be simply stated in one or two sentences in a letter or medical record, or by filling out a WKC-16B worker’s compensation evidence form. The worker or family member can then contact the employer and ask that a worker’s comp claim be submitted to the insurance company.
If your worker’s compensation claim for COVID-19 has been denied by the insurance company, or if you believe you were infected while performing work activities, contact Hawks Quindel right away. In addition to lost wages and medical expenses, there may be claims for loss of earning capacity and permanent disability benefits. Our experienced and dedicated worker’s comp attorneys can assist you in contesting a claim denial, or in building a worker’s compensation case.