Frontline Worker Injury Claims May Rise From COVID-19 Pressure
As frontline workers work grueling shifts serving COVID-19 related customers and patients, the added occupational weight may prompt an increase in workers’ compensation claims.
Apart from the fact that frontline workers are at high risk of exposure to the virus, there is also incredible pressure on them to double their efforts in the workplace despite health hazards. Already, some store workers and medical staff are wondering if their added physical exertions might give rise to a claim.
Employees at medical facilities have started feeling fatigue and muscular strains from the long hours of standing, walking, and transporting patients and medical supplies. Workers at retail stores, stockrooms, and warehouses are also at increased risk of physical injuries as they move merchandise amid frenzied retail demand and adjusted retail hours.
Frontline workers are in industry sectors that already had high injury numbers even before the pandemic broke out. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that healthcare is the number one sector in terms of number of occupational injuries and illnesses. Retail trade is third on that list. Since these are already hazardous sectors, we can expect that the added physical strain on their workers could drive up injury incidences.
On top of injury claims, workers’ comp claims citing COVID-19 may develop in the following weeks and months ahead. She does note, however, that there is still a question over whether such claims will be covered by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act.
Generally, compensable illnesses are those that arise out of and in the course of employment. We’ll have to establish that the COVID-19 contraction really was work-related and not just because it’s a public health hazard that everyone now faces.
At least two states, Washington State and Kentucky, have guaranteed coronavirus benefits for their first responders and health workers. There is a presumption that COVID-19 is an occupational hazard in their line of work. COVID-19 claims outside these sectors, however, will be decided on a case-to-case basis.
Virginia does not yet have a special workers’ comp consideration for the medical and healthcare sectors. At least for now, medical and health workers who are considering a COVID-19 claim in Virginia will still be subject to regular workers’ comp standards – they will still have to prove that their virus contraction is occupational.
This can mean an uphill climb for claimants. Say you developed chronic back pain because you were overworked. Or you contracted the virus because you work at a crowded hospital, or because your grocery store employer didn’t provide protective gear. Under our current state rules, you’d have to prove that you really got sick at work. But it’s challenging to prove this because your condition could also have developed outside the workplace.
What recourse is available for workers with coronavirus or pandemic-related injuries?
In these uncertain times, when even legal rules are still playing catch-up, consulting a lawyer is the best step. Workers should document any relevant detail about their illness or injury, including times of possible exposure and contact with possible carriers such as fellow employees or vendors. If you suddenly feel sick at work, report that to your supervisor. These details should be discussed with a worker’s compensation attorney
COVID-19 is new and it’s not in the rulebook yet, but a good workers’ compensation attorney can ensure that your claim gets fair treatment under existing guidelines.
If you’ve been injured on the job in Virginia don’t hesitate to contact us at (434) 205-9864 in Lynchburg or at (540) 858-8603 in Roanoke to schedule a free consultation.