The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation provides medical treatment and compensation to individuals who are either injured on the job or suffer a work-related illness. In the past, the most common occupational illness claims typically stemmed from respiratory issues due to an occupational exposure.
However, since March of this year, we are seeing a new wave of claims related to COVID-19. Normally, a communicable illness such as COVID-19 would not be considered a compensable illness because of the difficulty an employee would have in proving the illness was contracted at work. However, there may be certain employees who can demonstrate that their work posed a special hazard which put them at greater risk for contracting COVID-19.
Why COVID Poses Special Difficulties for Workers’ Compensation
Typically, to file a successful claim for workers’ compensation and obtain reimbursement for medical expenses, an employee must show how they contracted their illness while working. For COVID, this means that an employee would have to show exactly how/where they contracted the virus during the course of their work day.
Some people argue that this burden of requiring employees to show how they contracted the illness while working is nearly impossible to meet in the case of COVID. As the president of the Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group said, “[y]ou don’t know per se where you inhaled that breath whereby you became infected.”
The people who argue that this burden is problematic in cases of COVID propose that essential workers should not be required to prove how their illness occurred. Instead, they suggest there should be a presumption that essential workers did contract COVID while they were at work.
Essential workers with COVID are special cases because, as a University of Wyoming law professor said, “‘[w]hen you are talking about certain kinds of frontline workers, out in the trenches, day in and day out, that person starts to look like the coal miner who is routinely exposed to a hazardous health condition because of their work.” Since the conditions are always hazardous for essential workers, it should be presumed that they contracted COVID while at work.
Ohio Workers’ Compensation Law and COVID
The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation “has created a special team to review and evaluate COVID-19 claims to ensure that workers who were sickened on the job get the payments and benefits they are entitled to.” It still seems fairly difficult to succeed in a workers’ compensation claim for COVID in Ohio, though: of 456 claims between March 11th and June 23rd, only 171 were approved, but 61 are pending. There is a further worry that legislative immunity for essential businesses in other contexts will also mean immunity from paying their employees’ medical expenses through workers’ compensation.
What to Do if You Have Contracted COVID-19 on the Job
If you have contracted COVID and believe you were infected while on the job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits to pay for your medical costs and lost wages. To discuss your rights and pursue a workers’ compensation claim in Ohio, you should contact one of the highly experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Dworken & Bernstein.