Work Comp View on Lifting the Lockdown - Not Business as Usual
As employers begin a new path out of the Covid-19 lockdown, they need to get real about the shift from our previous carefree state to one of permanent distancing. Gone are the days of shaking hands and large gatherings. Businesses who rely on face to face interactions must adapt to survive as job descriptions will undoubtedly change. With change comes uncertainty and fear. As employers move forward with the reopening of business, they need to do so with patience and a priority on the mental health and physical safety of their employees. New standards must be established and enforced. Hopefully, this will maximize employee productivity, job satisfaction, and safety while minimizing workers’ compensation (WC) claims.
Should an employer be faced with a Covid-19 WC claim, it must be investigated promptly and thoroughly. Questions to ask are: (1) why the employee feels the illness was contracted through work; (2) whether the contact was necessary and if it was part of the job description; (3) was personal protective equipment used; and (4) was the employee subject to potential exposure outside of work. Employers can take employees' temperatures and act on that, but they shouldn't record the data. Medical experts are needed to provide opinion on the likelihood that the virus was spread through work.
Some concerns may be premature. Many virus-sickened employees appear to recover within two to three weeks, and federal law now requires two weeks of paid sick leave (subject to certain exemptions). Many claims won't amount to much in indemnity and won't be worth litigating. The litigated claims will likely come from Covid-19 complications and fatalities, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Employers/Carriers should regularly review their actions on claims as more research concerning Covid-19 emerges. A compensability decision now may change later as new information becomes available.
For specific questions, please feel free to reach out to us at the Law Office of Nathalie S. Pettit, Inc. We are always here for you.