Does Coronavirus (COVID-19) Qualify for Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
As hundreds of coronavirus cases have been reported across the U.S., with several states declaring a state of emergency to address the spread of COVID-19, how does Florida’s workers’ compensation system deal with a deadly virus like coronavirus?
What if Employees Contract Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Workplace?
The outbreak of coronavirus in the workplace can lead to multiple workers’ comp claims. The question is, “Would a Florida employer’s workers’ comp insurance carrier accept or deny a coronavirus-based claim?”
Let’s imagine the following scenario. Even though Tampa’s authorities closed a number of schools and government offices, your workplace remains open. A few co-workers begin to call out sick. Later, they test positive for coronavirus (COVID-19). As more workers begin to call out sick, your employer decides to close the office temporarily. Employees who were diagnosed with coronavirus believe that they contracted it from infected colleagues, customers, or visitors at work. As a result, multiple workers’ comp claims are filed.
Does the Workers’ Comp System Provide Coverage for Coronavirus?
While Florida’s workers’ compensation system provides coverage for work-related injuries arising out of and in the course of employment, it also covers “occupational diseases.” However, there are very specific rules for an illness or disease to qualify as “occupational.”
In general, Florida’s workers’ comp system considers any illness or disease “occupational” and compensable if the following two tests are satisfied:
- The illness or disease, such as coronavirus, arose out of and/or in the course of employment; and
- The illness or disease resulted from or was caused by conditions “peculiar” to the job.
While many illnesses and diseases can qualify as “occupational,” determining whether it is “peculiar” to work can be challenging. Under Florida’s workers’ comp law, an employee is not entitled to benefits if his/her illness is not peculiar to the job. To be considered as such, the disease:
- Must be found almost exclusively to workers in a specific field; or
- There must be increased exposure to the disease due to the worker’s employment conditions.
Is Coronavirus Occupational Disease Peculiar to the Job?
Just like the flu does not qualify as a compensable condition for workers’ comp coverage, it is unlikely that coronavirus can be considered “occupational disease.”
However, if your Tampa workers’ compensation attorney can prove that you had an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the peculiarity of your job, coronavirus may be considered an occupational and compensable disease.
If there is something about the job that heightens the risk of exposure to coronavirus, the deadly virus may be considered an occupational illness and thus be compensable. For example, a healthcare worker could prove the peculiarity element if he or she is interacting with sick people within the scope of employment.
For most other workers, however, coronavirus is a humankind exposure rather than one peculiar to their employment. Contracting COVID-19 in the workplace is not enough to qualify as an occupational and compensable disease to receive workers’ comp benefits in Florida. Contact our Tampa workers’ compensation attorney to determine whether your particular case satisfies the “occupational” and “peculiar” tests if you were diagnosed with coronavirus. Speak with our lawyers at Kobal Law by calling 813-873-2440.