Workers’ Comp Claims are Surging Among Frontline Workers—What You Need to Know About COVID-19 Exposure

Doctors and infected patient in quarantine lying in bed in hospital, coronavirusThe coronavirus (COVID-19) is a fast-spreading disease that poses a serious risk to most people, but especially to older adults, people with underlying medical conditions, and healthcare and frontline workers. The Washington State Department of Health reports that more than 17,600 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in this State as of May 10th. The early evidence indicates that frontline workers are at a heightened risk of contracting the disease.

According to a report from King 5 News, 800 plus workers have already filed COVID-19 workers’ comp claims in Washington. Of the 806 COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims filed, 83.5 percent (673) have been filed by health care workers or first responders. Alarmingly, experts believe that the true impact on frontline workers is even higher.

Frontline Workers are Bearing the Brunt of the Coronavirus Outbreak

Our nation’s frontline workers are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Preliminary data suggests healthcare workers account for 15 percent of those diagnosed with COVID-19. In a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 55 percent of those workers believe they were exposed while on the job. The coronavirus risk is affecting far more than just licensed medical professionals. Many workers are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak in Washington, including:

  • Doctors;
  • Nurses;
  • Nurse’s aides;
  • Emergency medical technicians (EMTs);
  • Police officers;
  • Firefighters;
  • Nursing home workers; and
  • Maintenance and cleaning staff at healthcare facilities. 

As was mentioned, at least 673 frontline workers have already filed Washington workers’ comp claims as of May 5th. Unfortunately, the true toll may be significantly higher as more and more frontline worker file claims in the coming weeks and months.

Further, there are concerns that many exposed frontline workers are not filing for benefits. As the University of Washington School of Public Health Professor Marissa Baker told reporters, there are many workers who don’t “feel like they know how to go through” the system. She strongly encourages filing L & I claims for those essential workers who have been exposed to a lot of people and diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Frontline Workers Exposed to COVID-19 May Be Eligible for Benefits—Even if Not Made Ill

On May 5, 2020, L & I coverage was extended to quarantined health workers and first responders.  This extended coverage was effective that day and included “eligible workers already under quarantine.” 

Some young and healthy people get extremely ill from COVID-19, potentially requiring intensive care. Other people only experience mild or moderate symptoms or are completely asymptomatic. Of course, anyone with COVID-19 can spread the virus, whether or not they are symptomatic. For that reason, all people, including essential and frontline workers, must self isolate (quarantine) after being exposed.

In Washington, all frontline workers should review their eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits and know their rights under the workers’ compensation laws. If you or your loved one is a frontline worker diagnosed with COVID-19 following exposure to the virus at work, benefits should be available. Benefits in an allowed exposure claim include time loss compensation, including during quarantine, and medical treatment for sickness from the virus. 

Not All Job-Related Exposures Will Qualify for Workers’ Comp

In Washington, workers’ comp insurance does not cover “incidental” exposure to viruses, including COVID-19. If your job puts you at a pronounced risk of being exposed—for example, if you are a frontline worker employed in a facility with COVID-19 patients—then you would likely be covered by workers’ comp insurance after filing a claim for benefits with your self-insured employer or the Department of Labor & Industries.

However, if you were only exposed incidentally, even if you can prove it happened in the workplace, you may not qualify. This is a complicated issue. If you or your loved one was exposed to COVID-19 while at work in Washington, you should consult with an experienced workers’ comp attorney. A lawyer will be able to review your case and explain your rights and options.

Benefits Provide Coverage for Medical Care and Lost Wages

As far as benefits go, COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims are similar to workers’ comp claims for other types of occupational diseases. Benefits may include medical care related to the illness and payment for lost wages.

Call Our Seattle, WA, Workers’ Compensation Lawyers for Help

At The Walthew Law Firm, our Washington workers’ compensation attorneys are experienced, solutions-focused advocates for clients. If you are a frontline worker with questions about coronavirus, we can help. To schedule a free, fully remote consultation, please contact us today. We represent injured workers throughout Western Washington, including in Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Renton, Kent, Federal Way, Tacoma, and Olympia.