As the pandemic drags on, employers may see workers’ comp claims rise. States are revising their workers’ compensation laws to cover COVID-19 for some workers, as questions arise over coverage for injuries of remote employees.
States allowing COVID comp
In September, New Jersey joined 14 other states allowing workers’ comp coverage for essential workers who contract the coronavirus. Healthcare, construction and child care workers are included, among others.
Workers’ compensation has never before covered common colds or the flu because these illnesses are almost impossible to trace. However, COVID-19 can potentially be traced to the workplace, so California, Illinois, Michigan and others have made changes to expand coverage for the virus. Similar laws are pending in other states.
Remote employees’ injuries
Under most state workers’ compensation laws, firms are liable for employee injuries in the workplace.
However, if a remote employee gets injured at home, “workers’ compensation will have to provide benefits to that employee under most state laws,” says Robert Fitz-Patrick, partner at law firm Hall Estill.
It’s “likely a broad range of potential injuries will be covered when the employee is working at home,” he says. “Courts will focus on how the injury occurred, and closely examine the work-related task the person was engaged in when the injury occurred.
Employers should protect themselves by implementing these practices, he suggests:
• Work-at-home policies: Include details on creating a dedicated safe workspace. “Work-at-home job descriptions can also help define the scope of the at-home employment,” says Fitz-Patrick.
• At-home reporting: Ensure workers report injuries, seek medical care and provide an incident report ASAP.