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Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Workers’ Compensation

When you may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits for Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Under the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation law, contracting an infectious or contagious disease, like COVID-19 (Coronavirus), may be considered work-related where the nature or circumstances of the employment create such an unavoidable risk that it is considered inherent to the employment.

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Healthcare Workers and First Responders

Classes of workers that are likely to be considered at higher risk are those involved in healthcare, such as doctors, nurses, certified nursing assistants (CNA), medical assistants, physician assistants, laboratory workers, etc. Especially those who are directly involved with the care of COVID-19 patients.

Likewise, law enforcement, fire fighters, EMTs and other first responders may be at greater risk due to the requirement that they attend to sick or ill members of the public on an emergent basis.

Airline and Other Personnel

Airline and Airport employees, such as flight attendants, ticket agents, pilots, food service workers and janitorial staff may also be considered at higher risk due to their exposure to travelers coming from all over the world.

Others, such as border protection agents, solid waste and wastewater management workers, as well as those involved in death care, such as coroners, funeral personnel, crematorium workers and embalmers, due to close contact and repeated contact with infected individuals may also be covered.

Another issue that may arise in some cases, if the infection with Coronavirus is deemed to be work-related, is whether it is made worse due to an underlying pre-existing condition of the affected worker, such as lung disease, immune deficiencies, diabetes, etc.  In these cases, the analysis is more complicated, but it does not mean the infected worker will be denied benefits.

If you believe you have contracted COVID-19 through your job, please contact us and we will do our best to try and help you.  These cases will be very complicated and fact specific and many people will not qualify.  As you will see from the cases summarized below,

randomly catching a disease, like Coronavirus, from a co-employee does not make the infection “work-related”.

Perron’s Case – Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (1949)

The Employee was a nurse employed by a tuberculosis (TB) hospital.  She filed a claim for benefits after contracting TB.  The Court looked at the fact that the Employee was 25 years old at the time she started working at the hospital and had no personal or family history of TB.   She worked full time at the hospital eight hours a day in the “positive” ward, tending to those who already had confirmed TB.

In this case, the Court determined that the likelihood of infection or contagion was so essentially characteristic of Ms. Perron’s employment, she was entitled to worker’s compensation benefits.

Langevin’s Case – Massachusetts Court of Appeals (2008)

The Employee was a short-haul truck driver who contracted bacterial meningitis.  Bacterial meningitis is transmitted through respiratory droplets.  The Employee argued that his condition should be considered work-related as he had far more contact with people when he was working than in his off time.

The Judge denied the Employee benefits in this case as he did not find a connection between the risk of contamination and the specific functions of the employment to be so closely connected that it should be considered an unavoidable hazard.  “Danger of exposure to germs from co-employees while working in close contact is a condition common and necessary to a great many occupations”.

Lussier v. Sadler Brothers – Reviewing Board of the Department of Industrial Accidents (1998)

The employee was a machine operator who worked closely next to two other employees, one of whom was known to be infected with tuberculosis.  It was undisputed the claimant contracted the TB from her infected co-worker.  However, the court denied her claim for worker’s compensation benefits.

The Court’s reasoning in this case relied on the principle that the harm (here infection with TB), must arise from an identifiable condition of the employment which is not common to all or a great many other occupations.  Sitting next to a sick co-worker would mean every case of flu would be work-related.

If you want to know if your Workers’ Compensation benefits cover Coronavirus (COVID-19), contact our office for a free initial phone conversation to discuss your individual situation.

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