Work-Related COVID-19 Infections are Covered Under the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Act

COVID-19 has caused massive uncertainty not only in the workplace, but the everyday lives of those who have been affected by the disease. We have written previously regarding best practices and potential challenges in claiming COVID-19 infections under your employer’s worker’s compensation insurance. If an employee contracts COVID-19 at work, the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Act provides benefits depending on various factors.

According to early data from the World Health Organization, most COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic or mild and resolve without medical intervention or long-term side effects. However, in instances where a worker becomes permanently disabled or dies as a result of COVID-19, worker’s compensation may provide options for that person and their dependents.

Work-Related COVID-19 Can Cause Permanent Disability

Some people infected with COVID-19 develop long-term impairments after recovering. While researchers continue to learn more as the pandemic continues, there are documented cases of permanent lung and heart damage in recovered COVID-19 patients.

If a Wisconsin worker contracts COVID-19 while in the course of his or her employment and sustains a permanent physical impairment as a result of the infection, then the Worker’s Compensation Act’s provisions on permanent disability benefits apply. Any work-related permanent damage to internal organs may prompt a treating physician to assign the worker a percentage of permanent partial disability (PPD).

In the case of COVID-19-related permanent disabilities, benefits in most cases will be based on the state’s 1000-week maximum for unscheduled injuries, which covers injuries to the spine, brain, lungs, and other internal organs. Benefits vary depending on the percentage of PPD assigned by the treating physician. For example, a worker who recovers from COVID-19 and is assessed with a 10% PPD rating due to diminished lung function will be eligible to claim 100 weeks of benefits (e.g. 10% of 1000 weeks equals 100 weeks).

In addition, if a worker’s COVID-19 permanent restrictions prevent them from earning their pre-injury income, loss of earning capacity benefits may be pursued against the worker’s compensation insurer. Loss of earning capacity benefits are designed to provide compensation for lost wages over the remainder of someone’s working life. These kinds of benefits are assessed by a vocational expert and are also based on Wisconsin’s 1000-week maximum for unscheduled injuries.

Work-Related COVID-19 Causing Death

In the unfortunate event of a work-related COVID-19 infection causing death, the Worker’s Compensation Act’s death benefits provisions may apply.

If COVID-19 causes a worker’s death and that worker leaves behind a person dependent on him or her for financial support, the death benefit is four times the worker’s average annual wages and funeral expenses up to an annual cap set by the state. The most common dependents include, but are not necessarily limited to, spouses and minor children.

Contact Hawks Quindel with Questions on Permanent Disability and Death Resulting from COVID-19

Given the invisible nature of coronavirus, it should be expected that employers and worker’s compensation insurers will challenge whether a COVID-19 claim was transmitted in the workplace. Therefore, if you or a loved one has suffered permanent disability or death as a result of a work-related COVID-19 infection, contact Hawks Quindel’s experienced worker’s compensation attorneys for a free evaluation of your claim. 

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Brandon Jubelirer