I Contracted COVID-19 at Work: Now What?

This past summer some of us have had the ability to ease back into a more normal work life as we return to office and retail spaces. While hopefully transitioning back to some semblance of normalcy is welcomed, it does come with some adjustments and risk assessment. As we enter into the colder season when being indoors means we’re closer together and can pass illness easiest to each other, some people may be asking about the likelihood of contracting the novel coronavirus from their place of work. So, if you or a loved one contracted COVID-19 at work or gets it this far, do you have a legal case against your employer?

COVID-19 and Workplace Lawsuits

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This past year we’ve seen a rise in cases where employees or their families have attempted to sue employers for unsafe working conditions related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Cases such as Pedro Zuniga, who’s family claims he died due to unsafe working conditions at a Safeway distribution center, have left families reeling and searching for answers. 

Many people who are pursuing personal injury claims against employers site a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and implementation of CDC guidelines as the reason for their infections. 

These lawsuits have sparked debate on what the role of employers is in regards to keeping their employees and workers healthy. 

Can I Prove I Got COVID-19 at Work?  

According to Amy E. Feldman, employment lawyer at The Judge Group, Inc, between the widespread prevalence of the virus and its long incubation period, it can be very difficult proving you contracted COVID-19 at work.
Even if you could, in most cases it can be extremely difficult to sue an employee due to workers’ compensation laws. While some workplace injuries like slips and falls can be traced back to inherent negligence, viral illnesses are harder to prove. 

Workers Compensation and COVID-19

There are, however, exceptions. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, COVID-19 and workers compensation have a complicated relationship. In general, illnesses like the cold or flu are not covered under workers compensation for the aforementioned reasons. But because the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly made previously safe spaces considered hazardous, some states have struggled to categorize those illnesses. 

Last March the Department of Labor and Industries in Washington announced that health care workers and first responders can receive wage-replacement benefits and have health care expenses covered through workers’ compensation. There are three criteria that Washington is using to evaluate COVID-19 claims:

  • Was there an increased risk of contract racing the condition due to the worker’s occupation?
  • Would the worker have otherwise been exposed to the virus?
  • Can the worker identify a specific source or event at work that would have exposed them to the virus?

This policy states that other essential workers who claim to have contracted COVID-19 at work and test positive are to be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

Do I Have Legal Grounds to Sue If I Contracted COVID-19 at Work?

If you aren’t an essential worker, there is a possibility you may have grounds for a case. The Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) dictates that employers are required to provide a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm”. In terms of COVID-19, the OSHA recommends that companies adhere to CDC guidelines by providing PPE, adding barriers, taking temperatures, and social distancing. If your employer vocally refuses to adhere to these guidelines and/or forces sick employees to come in anyways, you might have a case. Again, it can be extremely difficult to prove you contracted COVID-19 at work, so the outcome of a case could go either way.  

If you or a loved one contracted COVID-19 at work it can be confusing and difficult. If you have questions about personal injury claims and workplace injuries, contact our team at EPIC law today.