On April 1, 2020, Mack Babcock, a top-rated Colorado workers’ compensation attorney and founding partner of The Babcock Law Firm, was a guest on the Workers’ Comp Matters podcast hosted by Alan Pierce and featured on Legal Talk Network. In the episode, Mack, Alan and Washington attorney Amie Peters discussed whether workers who contract COVID-19 can qualify for workers’ compensation.
Visit Legal Talk Network to listen to the full 27-minute interview: https://legaltalknetwork.com/podcasts/workers-comp-matters/2020/04/impacts-of-covid-19-on-workers-compensation/
Classification of the disease for workers’ compensation
As Mack discusses in the interview, the first hurdle many workers will face in getting a workers’ compensation carrier to cover their COVID-19 infection has to do with the classification of the infection and whether that classification fits into the state’s workers’ compensation system.
“There’s some question as to whether or not these types of cases would be considered an injury…or an occupational disease,” says Mack.
In order to recover benefits in most states, a worker must prove that they suffered either an injury or an occupational disease. An injury (or accident) occurs during a specific event or exposure, whereas an occupational disease occurs when a worker is exposed to something over time. For occupational diseases to be covered by workers’ compensation, states have very specific requirements of proof.
In Colorado, for occupational diseases to be covered, workers must prove that the disease is a direct result of the conditions of their employment, and that the disease did not come from a hazard to which the employee would have been equally exposed outside of the employment. Mack points out in the interview that this requires far more than a simple showing that the condition occurred within the course of their employment.
Moreover, Colorado’s statute governing the workers’ compensation system doesn’t have specific provisions addressing infectious disease.
Massachusetts, on the other hand (where host Alan Pierce practices), does have specific provisions for personal injury due to infectious disease. According to Pierce, an injury that occurs as a result of “the nature of employment as a hazard of contracting such disease” would be covered. This means that healthcare workers, as well as others on the frontlines of COVID-19, should be covered.
Drafting protection for all workers
Despite social distancing restrictions, people will eventually need to venture out of their homes to purchase necessities. This means that essential businesses like grocery stores, gas stations and big box stores will have to remain open.
Unfortunately, these employees are often not highly paid, and do not have significant protections extended to them. Future amendments to the workers’ compensation act must include language to protect these workers, says Mack.
Everyone who is considered an essential employee — whether they’re a doctor in the trenches, the owner of a gas station, the trucker bringing in supplies, or the warehouse worker boxing up packages for shipment — should have their workplace injury compensated.
According to Mack Babcock:
“Everybody is contributing to society… It should not be that we ask people … to commit to us, to keep us moving forward, to keep us functioning, to keep us alive — and then not turn around and protect them.”
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