Workers in the United States that haven’t been able to do their jobs from home during the coronavirus pandemic don’t only have to worry about getting sick. If a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, they could have trouble being compensated for catching the virus at work.
Whether or not COVID-19 is covered as a work-related injury varies by state. More than a dozen states have implemented laws during the pandemic in order for a healthcare worker to be presumed to have contracted the virus at work, but that doesn’t ensure coverage for other professions.
States like New York, which was hit hard early on by the coronavirus, place the burden on the employee to prove that they got the virus at work.
“Trying to prove where somebody contracted an infection is really difficult,” Bill Smith, president of the nonprofit Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group, told FairWarning. “You’ve got health care workers working around individuals who are positive and you would think clearly they would be covered. They may or may not, depending on what state you’re in.”
FairWarning, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on public health, consumer, labor and environmental issues, spoke with Santina Curry, a 45-year-old correctional officer in Ohio. Curry was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March after she served breakfast to an inmate who later tested positive for the coronavirus. She still hasn’t been able to return to work because of the effects of her illness and is unable to get either disability or unemployment benefits.
Curry’s employer, Cuyahoga County, fought her workers’ comp claim. She was forced to start a GoFundMe page to pay for the costs of her illness.
As Congress and the White House discuss plans for another coronavirus relief bill, Senate Republicans have looked to include immunity for businesses against lawsuits from workers or customers accusing them of helping to spread the virus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNBC Tuesday that the GOP would not negotiate over liability protection.
Workers’ comp systems typically don’t cover infectious diseases.
“Nobody was getting compensated for getting the flu, for example,” Emily Spieler, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, told FairWarning. “The question becomes, in a pandemic, where you’re telling people they have to go to work, and they may or are likely to be exposed, how should the workers’ compensation system respond?”