Front Lines of the Coronavirus Outbreak: What First Responders and Health Workers Need to Know About Workers’ Compensation in Washington

coronavirus washingtonAs of March 16th, 2020, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reports that more than 167,500 cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide. Originating in Hubei Province, the virus—officially known as COVID-19—has spread all around the globe, with communities in China, South Korea, and Northern Italy being hit the hardest thus far. 

The epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States is in Washington. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed at least 708 cases in the state—the majority of which are in King County. Unfortunately, the true figure is almost certainly far higher, as lack of testing is currently a significant issue and more cases are being reported each day. 

First responders and health care workers in Seattle, King County, and throughout Washington state are on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus outbreak. Recently, state officials released new policy guidance confirming that workers’ compensation benefits will be available to quarantined health workers and first responders. 

COVID-19 and Health Workers: Official Guidance From Washington State Officials

On March 5th, 2020, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) Director Joel Sacks officially clarified that all first responders and health workers ordered quarantined as a result of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) will be covered by workers’ compensation. Further, first responders and health workers made sick on the job will also be eligible for benefits. 

In a news release, Director Sacks noted that our “health care workers and first responders are playing a key role in the COVID-19 response”. As they are doing so much to protect your region, they need the maximum amount of protection under the law. Any employee who gets sick or is ordered quarantined as a direct result of working a job that exposes them to greater than average risk of contracting COVID-19 or being quarantined can file a claim for benefits. Depending on the specific nature of the case, Washington workers’ comp insurance may cover: 

  • The cost of coronavirus testing; 
  • Any medical treatment related to the illness; and
  • Lost wages for workers made sick or ordered quarantined.

Pursuant to our state’s workers’ compensation regulations, employees have two years from the date that they were exposed to coronavirus to file a claim for benefits. 

Three Important Things You Need to Know About Coronavirus and Workers’ Comp Claims

  • First Responders and Health Care Workers Need Immediate Protection

While companies and organizations have a duty to take proactive measures to protect their employees, the simple truth is that first responders and health care workers face a heightened occupational risk when dealing with the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. 

Any first responder or health care industry worker who contracts coronavirus or who has been ordered quarantined by a medical professional or the Washington State Department of Health is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. 

  • Other Occupations With “Greater Likelihood of Exposure” May Be Also Covered

You do not have to be a first responder or health worker to get workers’ comp benefits under the clarified policy. Other workers in Washington may also be covered if they are exposed to a greater risk of contracting coronavirus as a necessary part of performing their job duties. 

In other words, if there is a major coronavirus outbreak in a particular facility, then all employees who work at that facility may be covered. For instance, a nursing home’s maintenance staff members who are ordered quarantined after an outbreak in a facility will most likely be eligible for workers’ comp benefits. 

  • Incidental Workplace Exposure is Still Not likely to Be Covered

Even with the clarified guidance and expanded protections in place, there are still limitations. Workplace exposures that are deemed to be “incidental” or “common to all employment” are not likely to be covered under Washington’s workers’ comp insurance system. 

As an example, imagine that a restaurant server tests positive for COVID-19 coronavirus. After an investigation, it is determined that the exposure most likely occurred after an interaction with an infected customer. There is a reasonable likelihood that the employee’s workers’ comp claim would be denied. 

Get Help From a Seattle, WA Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Today

At The Walthew Law Firm, our Washington work injury attorneys are committed to providing proactive, effective representation when our clients need it the most. If you have questions about coronavirus and workers’ comp benefits, we are here to help. To set up a no fee, strictly confidential consultation, please do not hesitate to contact our law firm today. With offices in Seattle and Everett, we represent injured workers throughout the region.