Government agencies across Massachusetts are scrambling to implement policies to handle the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, and the Workers' Compensation Insurance Organization (WCIO) is no exception.
On April 3, 2020, WCIO announced that it had updated its claim codes to include a cause of injury code for pandemic, and a nature of injury code for COVID-19.
While details weren't provided in the announcement, the move presumably creates the right for certain employees to pursue a claim for workers' comp benefits after contracting COVID-19 in the course of their employment. We take a look at who might qualify under this new injury code.
Workers' Comp for Infectious Disease
Massachusetts workers' comp has always covered infectious diseases, but only when the hazard of contracting a disease is inherent in the employment. In other words, employees must show their job duties required them to be exposed to a disease.
For example, a nurse working in a tuberculosis (TB) ward in a hospital would be covered if she contracts TB, but a factory worker who contracts TB from a co-worker may not be. Although both exposures happened in the workplace, the nurse's exposure arose out of the course of her employment, while the factory worker's did not.
How This May Apply to COVID-19
Until COVID-19 claims are filed and either approved or denied by the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA), we won't know exactly who will be covered and who won't. Based on how infectious diseases were handled in the past, we can assume that the following workers could be approved for benefits:
- Doctors, nurses, and medical assistants working with coronavirus-positive patients.
- First responders, such as police officers, EMTs, and firefighters.
- Employees of nursing homes that have had an outbreak of COVID-19, including healthcare workers, food service employees, and housekeeping staff.
- Hospital support workers, such as housekeepers, lab techs, and desk personnel, in COVID-19 wards.
What remains to be seen is whether healthcare workers who aren't in direct contact with COVID-19 positive patients will have their claims approved. We're also concerned about individuals who aren't in the medical field but are considered "essential employees" by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, such as grocery store and food service employees. These people are required to go to work and interact with the public and are, therefore, at an increased risk of contracting the virus.
In the past, a grocery store clerk wouldn't qualify for workers' comp for catching an infectious disease at work, but times have suddenly changed. It's unclear at this point who—outside of front-line emergency healthcare professionals—will be covered by workers' comp. We'll monitor the DIA's decisions and provide updates as they become available.
Contact Mahaney & Pappas With Your Workers' Comp Questions
In these uncertain and difficult times, benefits such as workers' compensation will prove to be a lifeline for many people. It's vital that you get the information you need from an experienced workers' compensation attorney. Mahaney & Pappas, LLP is open and providing full legal services during this time. Fill out the form on this page or call us with your questions about workers' compensation for COVID-19.