COVID-19: Workers' Compensation

Josh Cunningham 1/24/2022

5 doctors in an operating room performing surgery

The COVID-19 pandemic has created countless challenges for state policymakers across the country. Among those is the role that workers’ compensation insurance plays in helping workers infected with the disease. Every state has its own unique workers’ compensation policy landscape. States apply varying coverage requirements and standards based on industry, occupation, and the size and structure of a business. Workers’ compensation is designed to benefit both employees and employers by providing reliable insurance coverage with predictable, timely payments and reduced legal costs. Beyond providing medical treatment at no cost to the employee, workers’ compensation also provides wage replacement benefits for lost wages resulting from time away from work. If a worker dies due to a qualifying condition, the worker’s family could be eligible for financial death benefits. Most states have a dedicated workers’ compensation court system where judges make the final decision on claims and benefits awarded.

Does Workers’ Compensation Cover COVID-19?

The answer is complicated. Generally, workers’ compensation does not cover routine community-spread illnesses like a cold or the flu because they usually cannot be directly tied to the workplace. Some states have made exceptions for certain workers who develop chronic illnesses, like cancer, resulting from repeated exposure to harmful materials and environments. According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, prior to the COVID-19, at least 19 states had policies stating that when firefighters and other first responders develop lung and respiratory illnesses, those conditions are presumed to be work-related and covered under workers’ compensation. It is unclear if those existing policies would include COVID-19 illnesses.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique circumstance where the many jobs that are not typically considered hazardous have suddenly become very dangerous for the workers. Workers deemed essential including health care workers, mass transit operators and grocery store workers are at a high risk of exposure to the virus while at work. But the more hazardous working conditions do not guarantee that a COVID-19 infection would be covered under workers’ compensation in most states.

State Response to COVID-19

States are taking action to extend workers’ compensation coverage to include first responders and health care workers impacted by COVID-19. A common approach is to amend state policy so that COVID-19 infections in certain workers are presumed to be work-related and covered under workers’ compensation. This presumption places the burden on the employer and insurer to prove that the infection was not work-related making it easier for those workers to file successful claims. Some employers and insurers have raised concerns that these presumption policies will increase insurance costs for employers at a time when businesses are already facing significant financial challenges.

In total, 28 states and Puerto Rico have take action to extend workers compensation coverage to include COVID-19 as a work-related illness. Eleven states have enacted legislation creating a presumption of coverage for various types of workers. Utah and Wisconsin limit the coverage to first responders and health care workers. Illinois, New Jersey and Vermont cover all essential workers while California and Wyoming cover all workers. States have also used executive branch authority to implement presumption policies for first responders and health care workers as a part of their COVID-19 emergency responses. However, many of those executive orders have expired following the end of the state of emergency in certain states. 

State Spotlight

In March of 2020, Washington state’s Department of Labor and Industries announced that health care workers and first responders will receive wage-replacement benefits and have all related health care expenses covered under the state’s workers’ compensation program when quarantined by a physician. Washington has a single publicly-managed insurance option that employers can purchase giving the state more control over the coverage offered to workers. Other essential workers in Washington who test positive for COVID-19 will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The state has established three criteria for evaluating these COVID-19 claims:

  • Was there an increased risk or greater likelihood of contracting the condition due to the worker's occupation (such as a first responder or health care worker)?
  • If not for their job, would the worker have been exposed to the virus or contracted the condition?
  • Can the worker identify a specific source or event during the performance of his or her employment that resulted in exposure to the new coronavirus (examples include a first responder or health care worker who has actually treated a patient with the virus)?

State Actions

NCSL is tracking legislation, executive orders and other administrative policy changes that directly address workers' compensation coverage of COVID-19.

 

State Status Type of Worker With Presumption of Occupational Disease Bill or Order Number

Alaska

Pending 

  • First responders, 
  • Health care workers 
  • Child care/educators 
  • Grocery employees 
  • Farmers market employees 

HB 45 

Arkansas

Enacted  

(Exp. May 1, 2023) 

  • All workers whose jobs make exposure to COVID-19 possible or likely.  
  • The order does not give a presumption of coverage, but defines COVID-19 as an occupational disease making it coverable by workers compensation under the regular process of filing a claim. 

HB 1488 

California

Pending 

  • Creates a rebuttable presumption of injury for health care workers, includes an illness or death resulting from COVID-19 as one of several diseases that workers can claim compensation for, if specified circumstances apply. 

SB-213 

California

Enacted

  • All workers exposed to COVID-19 resulting from a hazardous workplace

AB 685

California

Enacted

  • Workers employed to combat the spread of COVID-19

SB 1159

Florida

Admin. Policy Change

  • First responders
  • Child safety investigators
  • Corrections officers
  • National Guard service members responding to COVID-19
  • State-employed health care workers  

CFO Directive 2020-05

Florida

Informational Memorandum

  • Reinforces the administrative policy change and informs insurance carriers that existing Florida law defines and covers occupational diseases. 

OIR-20-05M

Georgia

Pending

  • Relates to Compensation for Occupational Disease, so as to include COVID-19 within the meaning of Occupational Disease for Essential Workers

HB 700

Georgia

Pending

  • Related to Compensation for Occupational Disease, so as to include COVID-19 within the meaning of Occupational Disease for Essential Workers

SB 291

Illinois

Enacted

  • All essential workers

HB 2455

Iowa

Pending

  • Relates to compensation for infection with COVID-19 or a similar disease under the Iowa Occupational Disease Law

HB 121

Iowa

Pending

  • Anybody who contracts COVID-19 arising from and during the course of their employment  

SB 138 

Kentucky

Executive Order

  • First responders
  • Health care workers
  • Military and National Guard
  • Domestic violence shelter workers
  • Child advocacy workers
  • Rape crisis center staff
  • Grocery store workers
  • Postal workers
  • Child care workers

EO 2020-277

Massachusetts

Pending

  • Creates a presumption of relatedness for workers suffering from COVID-19

HB 1986

Massachusetts

Pending

  • Provides Worker Compensation protection to emergency response and medical personnel related to COVID-19 infection

HB 1993

Massachusetts

Pending

  • Relates to occupational presumption and COVID-19

HB 2031

Massachusetts

Pending

  • Relates to Emergency Hazard Health Duty

HB 2414

Massachusetts

Pending

  • Relates to disability or death caused by contagious diseases

HB 2650

Massachusetts

Pending

  • Relates to a COVID-19 presumption for Law Enforcement

HB 2770

Massachusetts

Pending

  • Emergency room and urgent care health workers

HB 4749

Massachusetts

Pending

  • Relates to COVID-19 and improving workers benefits

SB 1155

Massachusetts

Pending  

  • Frontline health care workers  

SB 1194 

Massachusetts

Pending

  • Relates to disability or death caused by infectious diseases

SB 1663

Massachusetts

Pending

  • Relates to a COVID-19 presumption for public employees

SB 1767

Massachusetts

Pending

  • Paramedics
  • Emergency and urgent care health care workers

HD949

Michigan

Pending

  • Provides infectious disease presumption for essential employees during a declared emergency

HB 4748

Michigan

Pending

  • Workers who contract COVID19 and have long term health effects may be entitled to long term wage-loss benefits 

HB 4753 

Michigan

Pending

  • Relates to COVID-19 presumption for police, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel incurred in the line of duty

HB 4822

Michigan

Pending

  • All essential workers

HB 5758

Michigan

Pending

  • Infectious disease presumption for essential employees during a declared emergency

SB 161

Michigan

Pending

  • First responders
  • Health care workers
  • Corrections officers

SB 906

Michigan

Pending

  • All essential workers

SB 928

Michigan

Pending

  • Workers who contract COVID-19 would be ineligible for workers' compensation if their employer was in compliance with public health requirements and guidelines

SB 1019

Michigan

Pending

  • All workers who are required by their employer to work outside their home

HB 6040

Minnesota 

Pending 

  • School Employees 

SB 105 

Minnesota

Pending

  • In part, provides workers compensation for certain school employees who contract COVID-19

SF 719

Minnesota

Pending

  • Extends the presumption for a workers compensation claim based on COVID-19

SF 1203

Minnesota

Pending

  • Adopts recommendations of the workers compensation advisory council

SF 2143

Minnesota

Pending

  • In part, provides workers compensation for certain school employees who contract COVID-19

HF 2

Minnesota

Pending

  • Relates to workers compensation, creates a presumption of eligibility for school employees who contract COVID-19

HF 32

Minnesota

Pending

  • Extends the presumption for a workers compensation claim based on COVID-19

HF 1203

Minnesota

Pending

  • Adopts recommendations of the workers compensation advisory council

HF 2253

Minnesota

Enacted

  • First responders
  • Health care workers

HF 4537

Missouri

Enacted

  • Evidence of occupational disease exposure for first responders

Emergency Rule 8 CSR 50-5.007

Nebraska

Pending 

  • Frontline Employees 

LB 441 

New Jersey

Pending

  • All essential workers

AB 3998

New Jersey

Enacted

  • All essential workers

AB 3999

New Jersey

Pending

  • Would prohibit payment of workers compensation benefits for COVID-19 unless the employer committed gross negligence 

AB 4496

New Jersey

Pending

  • Workers in warehouses and distribution centers

AB 4784

New Mexico

Executive Order

  • Certain state workers and volunteers

EO 2020-025

New York

Pending

  • Amends the volunteer firefighters benefit law and the volunteer ambulance workers' benefit law, in relation to COVID-19 exposure during a state of emergency

AB 1560

New York

Pending

  • Relates to including exposure to novel coronavirus, COVID-19 as an occupational disease

AB 6117

New York

Pending 

  • Public employees required to work in person and can receive workers’ compensation death benefits in the event that they die from COVID-19. in-person 

A 2127  

New York

Pending

  • Relates to including exposure to novel coronavirus, COVID-19 as an occupational disease

SB 1241

New York

Pending

  • Amends the volunteer firefighters benefit law and the volunteer ambulance workers' benefit law, in relation to COVID-19 exposure during a state of emergency

SB 1963

New York

Pending

  • Amends the labor law and the workers compensation law, in relation to liability of businesses for damages associated with a pandemic

SB 3725

New York

Pending

  • First responders

SB 8117A

New York

Pending

  • All workers who have contact with others

SB 8266

New York

Pending

  • All workers at risk of exposure as part of their job

AB 10401

Ohio

Pending

  • First responders

HB 571

Ohio

Pending

  • All essential workers

HB 573

Ohio

Pending

  • Grocery store workers
  • Food processing workers

HB 605

Ohio

Pending

  • Health care workers

HB 633

Ohio

Pending

  • Corrections officers

HB 667

Ohio

Pending

  • First responders

HB 668

Oklahoma

Pending

  • Relates to occupational diseases

HB 2239

Puerto Rico

Enacted

  • All workers infected while performing authorized services

SB 1540

Rhode Island

Pending 

  • All health care workers 
  • Public safety workers 
  • All essential workers 

HB 5264 

Rhode Island

Pending

  • Related to labor and labor relations, workers compensation, occupational diseases

HB 5474

Rhode Island

Pending

  • All essential workers

HB 8066

South Carolina

Pending

  • First responder
  • Health care provider
  • Correctional officer
  • Isolate or isolation

HB 3192

Tennessee

Enacted

  • Relates to infectious diseases

SB 995

Texas

Pre-filed

  • Nurses

HB 396

Texas

Enacted

  • Relates to certain claims for benefits, compensation, or assistance by certain public safety employees and survivors of certain public safety employees

SB 22

Utah

Enacted

  • First responders
  • Health care workers

SB 3007

Vermont

Enacted

  • Relates to extending certain workers compensation amendments related to COVID-19

SB 9

Vermont

Enacted

  • First responders
  • Health care workers
  • Corrections officers
  • Long-term care staff
  • Child care providers
  • Employees of pharmacies or grocery stores
  • Other workers with high risk of exposure

SB 342

Virginia 

Enacted

  • Health care workers 

HB 1985 

Virginia

Enacted

  • Relates to workers compensation, presumption as to death or disability or health care providers from COVID-19

HB 2207

Virginia

Enacted

  • Relates to workers compensation, presumption as to death or disability from COVID-19

SB 1375

Washington

Admin. Policy Change

  • First responders
  • Health care workers

Press Release

Washington

Enacted

  • Provides health care workers with presumptive benefits during a public health emergency

SB 5190

Wisconsin

Pending

  • In part, relates to workers compensation injury to critical workers

AB 31

Wisconsin

Enacted

  • First responders

AB 1038

Wyoming

Enacted

  • Public health emergencies - immunity amendments

SF 19

Wyoming

Enacted

  • All workers otherwise covered under workers' compensation

SB 1002 (special session)