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covid-19 and workers' comp

Can I Receive Workers’ Compensation for Contracting COVID-19?

Over 500,000 people have died due to COVID-19, and nearly 29 million have been infected at the time this article was written. Even if you survive the virus, it can come at a price: many people have suffered what appear to be permanent effects like lung damage, sensory loss, heart damage, and more. It can be a serious illness with high medical costs—so if you believe you contracted the virus at work, you may want to consider filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Generally, Ohio workers’ compensation is designed to cover medical bills and related expenses from injuries or illnesses incurred while working. While you could be certain that you caught COVID-19 at work, but proving it is another matter entirely.

Work-Related Injuries and Illness

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) covers injuries sustained on the job, as well as occupational diseases. An occupational disease “generally results from repeated work-related exposure… [It] has a harmful effect on the employee and there is a causal relationship between the exposure and the harmful effect that is confirmed by a medical diagnosis. The conditions of the employment create a greater hazard to the worker than to the general public.”

Is COVID-19 an Occupational Disease?

The BWC is careful to note that “[m]ere exposure to or contact with a disease-causing agent is insufficient to allow an occupational disease claim.” You must prove that you caught the virus on the job. Whether filing a claim for COVID-19 or another occupational illness, an injured worker will often need to prove that his or her job put them at hazard or risk of getting the disease in a greater degree or a different manner than the general public. Thus, if you work in a job that poses a special hazard or risk, such as a healthcare worker, and you contract COVID-19 from the work exposure, you may have a compensable claim.

Proving that you caught COVID-19 on the job is easier said than done. Most people have not adhered to a strict lockdown since the early days of the pandemic. Even then, visiting grocery stores, gas stations, drugstores, and other public areas was permissible. To prove a compensable illness, you would need a physician’s opinion stating that there is a causal link between your employment and your contracting of the virus. Since the burden is on the injured worker to prove that they contracted the virus on the job—and not anywhere else—the BWC will not automatically approve all workers’ compensation claims for COVID-19.

This is incredibly disappointing for many people, especially if you’ve suffered long a hospitalization and severe side effects. If you have questions about your workers’ compensation claim or appeal, contact Dworken & Bernstein today.

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