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Coronavirus and Workers’ Compensation: What Employers Need to Know

From the WorkCompOne team to yours: Our hearts go out to all those impacted by COVID-19, including those infected, their friends and families, the medical professionals and healthcare workers on the front lines, and the many workers and small businesses across the U.S. facing financial hardship at this time.

We know many of the closures and public gathering bans are uniquely hurting our nation’s small business community. We’re here to help. We’ll update you as we learn more about ways to help you and your employees through this time.

If you need economic support, the U.S. Small Business Administration is now offering low-interest loans to small businesses and non-profits that have been severely impacted by coronavirus.

What Small Businesses Need to Know About COVID-19

How employers and workers should respond to news of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is evolving rapidly, as government agencies, public health officials and medical experts enact measures to contain and mitigate the virus.

Here’s what we know right now about coronavirus cases and workers’ compensation.

Last updated: May 12, 2020

What is workers' compensation? 

Workers’ compensation is the system in place to cover medical expenses and lost wages for employees when they’re injured on the job. In the United States, each state government regulates its own workers’ compensation system, and is responsible for rules, regulations and enforcement.

Workers’ compensation would apply when an employee is injured, killed or contracts an illness while conducting the duties of their job. By law, workers’ compensation would require the employer or insurance company to pay for any medical care the employee needs to treat the injury, and to compensate the employee for a portion of wages they lose, if unable to return to work for a period of time.

Learn more about workers' compensation.

What is workers' compensation insurance? 

Workers’ compensation insurance, which is often also called workers’ compensation, workers’ comp, or work comp, is a commercial insurance policy that covers the expenses mentioned above.

By purchasing a policy for its employees, an employer can file a claim when a worker is injured, and the insurance carrier will compensate the employee for medical bills and lost wages. The policy also pays the legal fees of the employer, if the employee sues for additional damages related to the workers' compensation claim.

Learn more about workers' compensation insurance.

What if an employee is exposed to coronavirus at work?

If an employee contracts coronavirus at work, at a work-related event or in the course of work-related travel, is that eligible for a workers' compensation claim?

This is currently the general guidance from insurance carriers:

For exposure to coronavirus to be compensable, the exposure must both arise out of the workers’ employment and be in the course and scope of their employment when the exposure took place. Simply being exposed to the coronavirus while at work will generally not satisfy the two-pronged compensability test in most jurisdictions; there must be an employment risk inherent to the exposure (e.g. a research scientist working with the virus).

In other words, employees whose work requires some risk of exposure, or puts them at greater risk than the general public — lab professionals, healthcare workers, etc. — would be covered by a workers’ compensation insurance policy. Other employees may not be covered.

However, the widespread nature of this outbreak means that coronavirus-related claims will likely be decided by the courts, and determined on a state-by-state basis in the weeks or months ahead.

Additionally, several major health insurers have pledged to offer coronavirus testing at no cost to the insured, but this may not apply to all costs for medical treatment of the virus.

Do precautions like cancelling work-related travel or enacting mandatory remote work impact eligibility or coverage in any way?

Mandating additional safety measures does not impact workers’ compensation insurance coverage. However, employers that require employees to travel, work in-office, attend meetings, and other activities that could lead to exposure could present a case for employer liability, if the employee claims the infection is the result of employer negligence.

We recommend that employers refer to the most up-to-date guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and take appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of employees.

For More Information

For the most up-to-date news and guidance for employers and small business owners:

Tips and resources for small businesses during coronavirus:

 

Tags: workers compensation, small business, employers