Can Health Care Workers Get Workers’ Compensation If They Catch Coronavirus?
By Web Admin on March 17, 2020 | In Personal Injury
With the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, many North Carolina workers are staying home and practicing “social distancing.” However, health care workers have no choice but to work as coronavirus spreads across western North Carolina and other areas in our state. These workers will inevitably be exposed to the virus, and some will likely become sick. When that occurs, will workers’ compensation pay for their medical care and time out of work?
North Carolina workers’ compensation laws protect employees who are injured by accident or by occupational diseases. NC law lists multiple occupational diseases, like black lung, asbestosis, mercury poisoning, and other known work-related diseases (see NC Gen. Stat. 97-53). COVID-19 is not listed as an occupational disease in North Carolina’s statutes. However, its absence from the list does not mean that a health care worker infected or injured by the virus would not be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
North Carolina workers’ compensation law allows for injured workers to recover under workers’ compensation if the following criteria are met:
- That the worker was exposed to hazardous conditions at work
- That the worker developed the disease
- That the occupation exposed the worker to the condition and at a greater risk than the general population
- That the exposure contributed to development of the disease
North Carolina has traditionally excluded common diseases (such as the cold or flu) from compensation benefits. However, I would argue that coronavirus is rather different. Many employers are limiting visitors, cutting back store hours, or shutting down altogether to protect their workers. Meanwhile, health care workers must not only go into work, but work directly with infected individuals in many cases. There is no vaccine or other proven reliable method for containing the spread of the disease aside from hand-washing. The CDC reports that the disease appears to spread through the air and can live in the air for up to three (3) hours (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/transmission.html). Thus, merely being around an infected person and breathing the same air puts health care workers at risk. As we have seen at the Life Care Center of Kirkland in Seattle, Washington, over half the staff (47 employees) developed coronavirus despite using hand sanitizer and other precautions.
Further, the public needs health care workers to put themselves in danger during this time of crisis. These workers will respond and do their jobs to help the sick and save lives. If they become sick themselves and have medical expenses or lose time from work, workers’ compensation benefits should be available to them. If employers (and the public) ask for these workers to jeopardize their own safety, the least we can do in return is provide them with care and compensation if they become sick as a result.