When you think of workers’ compensation claims, you probably think of a work-related injury or long-term exposure to toxins. While those types of claims are certainly more common, Massachusetts workers’ compensation does provide for infectious disease claims under certain circumstances.
The determination in an infectious disease case typically revolves around whether or not the exposure to the disease was inherent in the job. So, a factory worker who caught the flu from a co-worker would generally not be eligible for workers’ compensation, even if he could clearly demonstrate that he caught the illness at work. On the other hand, an orderly in the infectious disease ward of a hospital who contracted the same illness from a patient likely would receive compensation. That’s because the orderly would likely be found to have been at increased risk of contracting the disease as a direct result of the work he was doing.
Massachusetts Currently Has No Special Provisions for Frontline Workers
Since the coronavirus pandemic started, some states have passed legislation or enacted emergency rules that make it easier for front line workers to secure workers’ compensation benefits if they get sick with Covid-19. Massachusetts hasn’t done so, although a bill has been introduced that would make it easier for certain medical workers to establish their claims. Notably, the bill’s language extends only to emergency medical technicians (EMTs), emergency room and urgent care medical personnel, and non-medical staff in emergency and urgent care facilities.
Other states have extended these new measures to include other first responders such as police and firefighters. Some have included all frontline workers, including those serving customers in essential retail settings like grocery stores.
Since Massachusetts is currently operating under traditional rules for processing infectious disease claims, it is uncertain how Covid-19-related workers’ compensation claims will be determined.
Is Coronavirus Exposure Inherent in Your Job?
Massachusetts workers who contract Covid-19 on the job and want to apply for workers’ compensation benefits will have to demonstrate that the exposure was inherent in their jobs–at least, unless and until new legislation passes or special rules are enacted. The complication is that these are unprecedented circumstances. From a common sense standpoint, it seems clear that healthcare workers who work directly with Covid-19 patients face an inherent risk. But, we haven’t seen rulings yet. We don’t know exactly how the standard will be applied, or whether other jobs like law enforcement will be deemed to include an inherent risk of contracting the virus. Similarly, grocery store workers are getting sick and some have died, likely as a result of their extensive exposure to the public. Arguably, their jobs contain inherent risk during a pandemic. But, we don’t know yet whether courts will agree, or whether “inherent during a pandemic” will suffice.
Information about how the law will be applied–and perhaps even the law itself–is evolving. That means whatever you’ve heard from friends, remember from a past experience, or are told by your employer may not be accurate and up to date.
If you’ve contracted Covid-19 at work or lost a loved one who was a healthcare worker, first responder, or other frontline worker, it’s in your best interest to talk with an experienced local workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible. A free consultation with attorney Kevin P. Broderick can be your best resource for up to date information about your rights and options.
You can get started right now by calling 978-459-3085 or filling out our quick contact form.