The numbers don’t lie: it’s been really hard for employees to avoid COVID-19, especially with more contagious variants on the loose. So, you’re probably wondering what will happen if you’re exposed to COVID-19 at work You probably also want to know whether you’ll qualify for workers’ compensation benefits if you can’t work due to your illness and whether your employer will cover your medical bills.
Unfortunately, there are no clear answers to this question. Let’s take a closer look at what workers’ compensation claims based on COVID-19 might look like under North Carolina and Virginia law.
COVID-19 and North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law
In North Carolina, COVID-19 may qualify as an “occupational disease” if a job puts you at greater risk to contract the coronavirus than the general public. This means it’s not enough for you to simply be exposed to the coronavirus at work. You have to be at greater risk for exposure than the greater public because of your job. So, if you work in a hospital or grocery store, you’re going to have a better claim for COVID-19 workers’ compensation benefits than an office worker.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has listed a series of occupations that are likely to come into greater contact with the virus:
- airline operations,
- border protection,
- solid waste and wastewater management, and
- those who travel to areas where the virus is spreading rapidly.
But even if you fall into one of these categories, coverage is not automatic. You still have to show that your work caused you to get sick with coronavirus. Given how prevalent COVID-19 is, it may be difficult to prove that you were exposed at work.
COVID-19 and Virginia Workers’ Compensation Law
Virginia’s workers’ compensation law is similar to North Carolina’s. However, earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed two new laws that create two presumptions that are very important for employees in certain occupations.
First, healthcare providers who treated patients with COVID-19 and later contracted COVID-19 between March 12, 2020, and December 31, 2021, are entitled to a presumption that COVID-19 is an occupational disease. This means you can recover for your claim unless your employer has evidence that you contracted the coronavirus elsewhere. To qualify, the healthcare worker must be vaccinated and must have received a COVID-19 diagnosis from a licensed physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant after a positive test for COVID-19.
Second, emergency personnel, including firefighters, police, and law enforcement, are entitled to the presumption that COVID-19 is an occupational disease if they died or got between July 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021. This means that the claim is compensable as long as the employer cannot produce evidence to the contrary. To qualify, emergency personnel must have received a positive COVID-19 test and be diagnosed by a licensed physician. There is no vaccination requirement for emergency personnel.
What Steps Should You Take If You Think You Were Exposed to COVID-19 at Work?
The first step is to get tested. Then, if you think you were exposed to COVID-19 at work, take note of what precautions your employer has (and hasn’t) taken to protect you from the coronavirus.
Next, contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer for advice. Our lawyers can help you figure out whether you might qualify for workers’ compensation benefits and will help you fight for any benefits you’re entitled to. Contact us today for a no-obligation case evaluation. Call us in Charlotte at 704-251-2945 and in Richmond at 804-297-0838. You can also text us through our website.