Previously, we provided you with our focus on best practices for determining whether claims arising out of COVID-19 could be considered compensable for workers’ compensation coverage. The guidance provided was based on existing state regulations and statutes. However, that landscape is now changing. Currently, two states have issued coverage directives, one state has passed legislation awaiting its governor’s signature, and several states are making a push for COVID-19 coverage under workers’ compensation.
On March 5, 2020, Washington state Governor Inslee announced that workers’ compensation coverage would extend to quarantined healthcare workers and first responders. Governor Inslee stated that his focus was on ensuring that these workers were protected through workers' compensation while they were performing services to protect the community.
On March 18, 2020, Michigan Governor Whitmer followed the State of Washington by also directing workers’ compensation coverage for COVID-19 for first responders. First responders is defined as including healthcare employees and state police.
Additionally, various groups in the states of Minnesota, California, South Carolina and Florida are demanding action from their governors and state legislators that essentially declares a presumption that certain classes of employees diagnosed with COVID-19 contracted the disease in the course of employment and should receive medical and indemnity benefits. Classes of workers to be included would be first responders, healthcare providers, EMS and rescue personnel, front line enforcement officers and essential critical infrastructure workers. This coverage presumption has been requested for the duration of the crisis.
New York state legislators have requested a provision to be included in state budget legislation that would mandate that the exposure to the COVID-19 virus is an occupational disease and as such is compensable under New York State workers’ compensation law. The following occupations would have the benefit of the presumption: healthcare providers, transportation workers, food service workers, retail employees, education employees, hospitality employees, public utility employees and any business defined as essential by Governor Cuomo’s executive orders.
Lastly, on March 30, 2020, Alaska lawmakers passed a bill that would create a conclusive presumption that COVID-19 is an occupational disease for first responders and healthcare workers. That bill is awaiting signature by the governor.
We will continue to monitor state and national activities to provide updates as they occur.