Tag Archives: Coronavirus

COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation

Exposure to the Coronavirus, development of COVID-19 and workers’ compensation can be connected. In some cases, workers with COVID-19 may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim in Washington State. Allowance of a claim is possible as an occupational disease according to the Department of Labor and Industries, which generally means that there must be something “distinctive” about the type of employment in which the individual is exposed to the virus (as opposed to simply a coincidental exposure).

COVID-19 Pandemic is Ongoing in Washington State

The Coronavirus is highly contagious and easily transmissible. It is now present throughout the country, with some areas more saturated than others. Although the overall case numbers in Washington State are better than many other states, we have not yet bent the curve to bring case numbers down to baseline. Instead, most areas are holding steady in the mid-range of our case numbers. Some areas, such as Yakima County, remain hotspots.

Governor Inslee recently visited Yakima County to address the county’s high rate of infection. The rate of transmission reflects the number of people each infected person would be expected to transmit the virus to, with a rate of 1 or fewer allowing for a decline in cases or over 1 an expansion of cases.

The Yakima Health District said that Yakima County’s transmission rate was 2 to 2.5 while Western Washington’s rate is under 1, according to reporting by the Yakima Herald. The rate of COVID-19 spread in Yakima County is 27 times that of King County, the state’s largest county, per the Governor’s press release about his visit.

Yakima County Encourages Taking Precautions to Reduce the Spread of the Coronavirus.

Governor Inslee recently announced that he intended to make mask-wearing mandatory in Yakima County to help curb the spread of COVID-19. No word yet as to how Yakima County’s “constitutional sheriff” Robert Udell will enforce a mask-wearing order, which he has previously suggested would violate some inchoate constitutional provision.

In King County, where our firm is located, we have only just entered Phase Two of reopening. Our case numbers have ticked back up a bit in recent days. Steps are being taken here to reinforce the message that precautions still need to be taken as more businesses reopen.

Occupational Disease Claims Explained

An occupational disease claim covers workers who develop a health condition due to exposure to substances, diseases, or injurious conditions on the job. An occupational disease claim can cover a variety of conditions that result from repetitive micro-traumas, such as physical injuries due to overuse, exposures to infectious agents, or exposures to toxic substances.

In order for such a claim to be allowed, the Department of Labor and Industries needs to find that the claimed medical condition resulted from exposure on the job, on a more-probable-than-not basis. In addition, that exposure must be due to “distinctive conditions” of employment. This does not necessarily mean that there is a higher prevalence of an injury or medical condition arising from your type of employment than there is in the general labor market overall, just that some distinctive aspect of your job led to the exposure/overexertion.

As an example, nurses and other medical professionals are exposed to various diseases and infections on a daily basis, in spite of the numerous precautions against infection taken by hospitals and doctors’ offices to prevent the spread of disease. Conversely, many people in all walks of life may be exposed to individuals with transmissible diseases or infections, but in the case of the medical professional, their job distinctly places them in the path of infection as compared to the general public or all employments generally.

Coronavirus, COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation Claims

Workers with significant exposures on-the-job, or with specific conditions of their employment exposing them to the virus, could file a claim and potentially receive benefits. With exposure to the Coronavirus rather commonplace within our communities, the connection between work exposure and development of COVID-19 must be direct and clear in order for a claim to be allowed. In the case of the Coronavirus, while you do not necessarily need to identify the specific patient or person to whom you were exposed, the ability to show that your job involved exposure to known cases of the virus would probably be required.

Washington State has issued guidance for the Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) that there should be a presumption that the onset of COVID-19 is related to work exposures for some frontline workers, including healthcare workers and medical professionals. If a period of quarantine is medically necessary, the workers’ compensation claim would pay time loss compensation for these workers, even if they are not ill, for up to 14 days.

Other frontline workers, especially those performing essential services in high-risk environments, could also be entitled to benefits under a workers’ compensation claim. For claimants working in jobs not explicitly covered under the presumption of work relatedness, each claim will be reviewed on an individual, case-by-case basis. Specific criteria must be met for a claim to be allowed.

Unfortunately, although DLI’s guidance is great news for frontline healthcare workers, for most other people the guidance incorrectly states the legal standard for allowing an occupational disease claim. For instance, DLI suggests that there must be “an increased risk or greater likelihood of contracting the condition” in the person’s particular employment. The Washington State Supreme Court has rejected the “increased risk” test (elsewhere referred to as the “positional risk” doctrine) in several cases, most recently in Street v. Weyerhaeuser, 189 Wn. 2d 187, 200-01 (2018).

If you believe you have been exposed to the Coronavirus and developed COVID-19 due to an on-the-job exposure, you should contact an attorney. If you have questions about COVID-19 and workers’ compensation, our firm is available to assist you.

Benefits Under a Workers’ Compensation Claim

The benefits available would include time loss compensation for the days the worker is unable to work due to quarantine or illness. The claim would cover the cost of allowed medical treatment. In many cases, if there is no onset of symptoms or recovery from illness happens quickly, there may be relatively little compensation paid under a claim.

In some cases, people face hospitalization and extended periods of recovery. In King County, current data shows that 16.8% of positive cases require hospitalization. The King County daily summary dashboard provides statistics about testing numbers and rates for positive results, hospitalizations and deaths. The graph displays data for the county overall as well as by city. Closer inspection reveals that the rates for positive test results, hospitalizations and deaths are better – and worse – in different parts of the county.

Medical expenses can quickly add up, and time lost from work may be greater than one would expect.

Permanent Impairment After COVID-19

In most cases, there are no lasting effects that remain after recovery from COVID-19. However, it is now becoming clear that there can be permanent effects from COVID-19 in some cases, even for people who recover without the need for hospitalization.

If there is permanent residual impairment after COVID-19, an allowed workers’ compensation claim would provide a monetary impairment award once the claim closes. The most common reported permanent effects are connected to impaired lung function. There are also reports of stroke, kidney, liver and heart conditions that remain after recovery from COVID-19.

Impairment awards paid at claim closure are based on ratings of permanent impairment made by a physician. For injury to internal organs, the State uses a category system for rating impairment. Each category relates to a set of symptoms present, with higher categories compensating for higher levels of impairment due to greater loss of function.

In the rare case where death results, the worker’s family could receive a burial benefit and compensation for the loss of life due to the work exposure and illness.

Filing a Claim for COVID-19

For those that are diagnosed with COVID-19 that were significantly exposed to the Coronavirus on-the-job, a claim may be filed with the Department of Labor and Industries. A claim can be filed:

  • Online via DLI’s FileFast tool.
  • By phone: 1-877-561-3453 (FILE).
  • At your doctor’s office (if you complete the Report of Accident at your doctor’s office, the doctor files the form for you).

You can watch a DLI video that generally describes the process for filing a claim if you need more information about the steps to be taken.

More Information and Resources

DLI has a page of information and links to resources dedicated to answering questions about COVID-19 and workers’ compensation. This includes questions raised by employers and businesses, injured workers whose non-COVID claims have been impacted by the social changes brought on by the virus, as well as workers who believe they have developed COVID-19 through work exposure.

The Washington Department of Health has a COVID-19 Information Line: 1-800-525-0127. Phone lines are staffed from 6 am – 10 pm. Interpreter services are available in multiple languages.

Our intent in sharing this information is not to spur a flood of baseless claim filing. The truth is that exposure to the Coronavirus on the job could have a significant impact on a worker and their family. In those rare circumstances where the facts line up to support allowance of a claim, the benefits available under a workers’ compensation claim could help to alleviate this impact.

If you have questions about COVID-19 and workers’ compensation, or if your claim was denied, please feel free to contact our firm. We offer a free case analysis, and would be happy to discuss your specific circumstances with you.

Prior Posts on Related Topics

Worker Memorial Day Celebration Canceled

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has observed Worker Memorial Day since 1990 and, in 1993, began conducting a special ceremony to mark the day.

Washington State’s Worker Memorial Day service was canceled this year due to the Coronavirus outbreak. It is a solemn ceremony where the names of workers in Washington that lost their lives are shared with a bell tolled for each life lost. It is an annual tradition of importance. I wish it could have been arranged as a remote event.

You can read the history of Worker Memorial Day in Washington state, including information about the bell created by artist Tom Torrens, which has been used in the ceremony since 2007, here. Past events are also available for viewing. Below is the 2019 event.

The notice of cancellation from the Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) is below:

Remembering workers who sacrificed their lives

DLI encourages moment of silence for lost workers and those on the front lines

Now more than ever, the safety and health of workers is top of mind here and around the world. The week of April 28 is traditionally when Worker Memorial Day is commemorated in Washington state.

This year’s in-person events at the Department of Labor and Industries and around the state have been cancelled because of the pandemic and the need for social distancing, but those lost to workplace injuries and illness must not be forgotten.

DLI honors and remembers each worker who died in connection with their job in 2019, and shares heartfelt condolences with their family and friends.

Fifty-five workers died in 2019 as a result of work-related incidents, and 43 passed away last year after long battles with occupational illnesses. The names of all 98 workers honored by DLI this year are available on DLI’s website.

“Worker Memorial Day is about remembering those we have lost, and the unbearable cost to families when people die in connection with their jobs. It’s also a time for all of us to recommit to doing everything possible at work to keep ourselves and our coworkers safe from harm. There is always more to do,” said DLI Director Joel Sacks.

“We had no choice but to cancel this year’s ceremony,” Sacks added, “but it doesn’t diminish the importance of remembering fallen workers and continuing our efforts to reduce to zero the number of people who die in connection with their job.”

Motor vehicle crashes, workplace violence and occupational illness 

Motor vehicle crashes continued to be a serious hazard for Washington workers, claiming 24 lives in 2019. There were fewer fatalities from falls in 2019, but sadly, workplace violence claimed 13 lives. Nearly half of workplace fatalities were associated with occupational illnesses such as cancer and mesothelioma.

These workers were men and women ranging in age from 17 to 94. They were store owners, millwrights, crane workers, medical technicians, retail clerks, truck drivers, and much more. They were moms, dads, brothers, sisters and cherished friends who meant much more than their occupations to their families and communities.

DLI encourages moment of silence for fallen workers and those on the job

“I encourage everyone to take a moment of silence sometime this week to remember the workers who were lost in 2019, and in support of all of the workers on the front lines of the pandemic providing much needed health care, goods and services during this challenging time,” Sacks said. 

Adding to the sadness of each life lost at work is the knowledge that every one of these incidents was preventable. Worker Memorial Day stands as a reminder that these were human lives lost, and that the work to prevent future workplace deaths is vital.

Prior Related Posts:

27,000 Boeing Workers Return to Work

Approximately 27,000 Boeing workers return to work this week. Those that can perform their work from home will continue to telecommute. Boeing’s press release is excerpted, below. Read the full release, here.

Boeing Workers Return to Work

Boeing has taken steps to resume all Commercial Airplanes production in a phased approach at its Puget Sound-region facilities this week, after suspending operations last month in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At all of its sites, the company has taken extra precautions and instituted comprehensive procedures to keep people safe and fight the spread of COVID-19. 

Approximately 27,000 people in the Puget Sound area will return to production of the 747, 767, 777 and 787 programs, supporting critical global transportation infrastructure, cargo services and national defense and security missions. The 737 program will resume working toward restarting production of the 737 MAX. Boeing South Carolina remains in a suspension of operations at this time. Earlier this week Boeing restarted mostly defense production operations in the region with approximately 2,500 people.

The company’s practices reinforce enhanced cleaning, employee health and physical distancing in partnership with employees. Aligned with federal and state guidance, these practices include:

  • Staggered shift start times to reduce the flow of employees arriving and departing work 
  • Visual controls such as floor markings and signage to create physical distance 
  • Face coverings will be a requirement for employees at Boeing sites in Washington. Employees are strongly encouraged to bring in their own procedural mask or face covering; those who do not have a mask available will be provided with one. 
  • Providing required personal protective equipment to employees working in areas where physical distancing cannot be maintained for an extended period 
  • Asking employees to perform self-health checks before coming to work and to stay home if they are ill 
  • Employee wellness checks at the beginning of every shift and voluntary temperature screening at many manufacturing locations 
  • Contact tracing when an employee tests positive for COVID-19 to reduce risk to teammates 
  • Continued virtual meetings and employees who can work from home will continue to do 
  • Transportation and common areas adjusted for physical distancing 
  • Hand-washing stations in high-traffic areas and additional cleaning supplies available

Enhanced measures will continue until conditions allow for a return to regular work and cleaning processes. Boeing will continue to monitor government guidance on COVID-19, assess impact on company operations and adjust plans as the situation evolves.

Governor Inslee Asked About Boeing Return to Work

During his April 16th press briefing, Governor Inslee was asked about his “reactions to Boeing announcing it will restart commercial airplane production, and whether you gave them the green light to do so,…”

The Governor responded, referring to Stan Deal, Executive Vice President of Boeing, saying:

“…I didn’t have a chance to talk to him about this specifically, but we have talked about this prospect in the past, and I am glad that the Boeing company is committing to very robust social distancing protocols, and use of PPE. We will try to get more details about that to make sure that those plans are adequate to the safety of Boeing employees, which obviously is a paramount concern of ours. I will be talking to Mr. Deal. Our departments will look at their plans to guarantee safety of our employees and hopefully they’re going to pass muster.“

Boeing Return to Work an Experiment

Suddenly releasing 27,000+ employees to return to work in plants across the Puget Sound region will be an experiment to determine the effect of a phased reopening of the State. Governor Inslee has referred to a gradual reopening – “turning up a dial rather than flipping a switch” – while watching the data for any adverse changes.

Although it is not clear if Governor Inslee had input on the decision to reopen Boeing plants to workers, it is clear that the dial has been turned, a bit, this week.

Prior Post on Related Topic

DLI NEWS: COVID-19 FAQS FROM EMPLOYERS

DLI News: Coronavirus On The Job

Governor Jay Inslee and and L&I Director Joel Sacks issued a press release concerning the Department’s policy on workers’ compensation coverage related to exposures to Coronavirus on the job.

The primary news is for health care workers and first responders who are quarantined by a physician or public health officer.  Under the clarified policy, workers’ compensation benefits must be provided benefits to these workers during the time they’re quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19 on the job.  The policy also applies to others who may have accepted claims for exposure to COVID-19; for example, those who are not considered health care workers but are working in facilities with documented exposures or others whose claims may be approved.

As a reminder, answers to the following questions must be considered for workers who file claims and are not working in jobs or at facilities where exposure would be routinely expected:

Was there an increased risk or greater likelihood of exposure or contracting the disease due to the worker’s occupation (first responders or health care workers)?

If not for their job, would the worker have been exposed or contracted the condition?

Can the worker identify a specific source or event during their employment that resulted in exposure to COVID-19/Coronavirus on the job?

When exposure to or contraction of the disease is incidental to the workplace or common to all employment (for example, an office worker who may have been exposed through a fellow employee, or a waitress through a customer), the claim will likely be denied.

How to File, and What to Do if Your Claim is Denied

Our suggestion to those that are diagnosed with COVID-19, and believe that they were exposed to the Coronavirus on the job, especially as a healthcare worker or first responder, is to file a claim with the Department of Labor and Industries. A claim can be:

  • Filed online
  • By phone: 1-877-561-FILE (3453)
  • At your doctor’s office (if you complete the Report of Accident at your doctor’s office, the doctor files the form for you)

You can watch a DLI video that describes the process for filing a claim if you need more information about the process.

As with any claim decision, the Department of Labor and Industries will issue an Order and Notice stating that your claim was denied. You have sixty (60) days within which to file a written protest or appeal if you disagree with the decision. A protest can be faxed, mailed or submitted to the Department online. If no protest or appeal is filed within 60 days from the date you received the order, the decision becomes final and binding on all parties.

If you have questions or if your claim should be denied, please feel free to contact our firm for assistance. We offer a free case analysis, and would be happy to discuss the circumstances you are facing with you.

Prior Posts Related to Occupational Expsoures

HANFORD VAPOR LITIGATION RESOLVED THROUGH SETTLEMENT

FLIGHT ATTENDANTS MAY FACE INCREASED RISK FOR MANY CANCERS

Coast Guard Bulletin – Corona Virus

The United States Coast Guard has issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) concerning the Novel Coronavirus outbreak. Read the full Coast Guard bulletin, excerpted below, here.

This information is provided as notice of measures being taken to protect us from this virus. It is not intended to stoke fear or spur actions.

This Coronavirus is Different

An outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) may affect mariners and maritime commerce. 2019-nCoV was first detected in Wuhan, People’s Republic of China and has since spread globally (see https://go.usa.gov/xdbS9). There are several known coronaviruses that infect people, usually causing only mild respiratory symptoms similar to the common cold. However, 2019-nCoV appears capable of causing illness that is more serious. Signs and symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.

Maritime Traffic Rules
  • Per 42 CFR 71.21, vessels destined for a U.S. port are required to report to the CDC any sick or deceased crew/passengers during the 15 days prior to arrival at a U.S. port. Guidance to vessels on reporting deaths and illnesses to the CDC can be found here.
  • The Coast Guard will continue to review all “Notice of Arrivals” in accordance with current policies and will communicate any concerns stemming from sick or deceased crew or passengers to their Coast Guard chain of command and the cognizant CDC quarantine station, who will coordinate with local health authorities.
  • Passenger vessels or any vessel carrying passengers that have been to China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) or embarked passengers who have been in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) within the last 14 days will be denied entry into the United States. If all passengers exceed 14 days since being in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) and are symptom free, the vessel will be permitted to enter the United States to conduct normal operations. These temporary measures are in place to safeguard the American public.
  • Non-passenger commercial vessels that have been to China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) or embarked crewmembers who have been in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) within the last 14 days, with no sick crewmembers, will be permitted to enter the U.S. and conduct normal operations, with restrictions. Crewmembers on these vessels will be required under COTP authority to remain aboard the vessel except to conduct specific activities directly related to vessel cargo or provisioning operations.

Prior Post: COVERAGE CROSSROADS – WHAT TYPE OF CLAIM DO YOU HAVE?