Worker’s Comp and COVID-19: Exposure on the Job
Frontline workers, such as first responders and healthcare professionals, have a unique and ongoing danger of being exposed to COVID-19. However, they are not the only employees putting themselves at risk in order to serve the public. COVID-19 has turned average industries into essential services, leaving workers in other high-volume areas such as school teachers, bus drivers and store clerks at a higher risk of catching the virus than the general population.
What is Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation provides medical and financial coverage to employers and their employees. If a worker becomes ill or injured at work, these benefits will reduce the upfront legal and medical costs associated with their claim. In addition to these costs, workers’ compensation also provides a wage replacement for the duration of time you are away from work. In the event of a worker’s death, their family may be eligible for their benefits. Most states have a dedicated workers’ compensation court system where judges make the final decision on claims and benefits awarded.
N.J. Senate Bill 2380
Generally, workers’ compensation would not cover illnesses like the common cold or flu. However, in September 2020, Governor Murphy signed a law making it easier for essential employees diagnosed with COVID-19 to qualify for these benefits. Under this bill, COVID-19 is recognized as a work-related illness if an essential employee contracts the disease while at their place of employment. It even retroactively covers workers back to March of 2020, during the time of the initial pandemic outbreak. The enacted law defines essential employees as: healthcare workers, first responders, and various other public-servant employees who are regularly put at a high risk of exposure to the virus while working.
Do You Think You’ve Been Exposed?
If you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19 at work, you should seek testing immediately. If you are covered by health insurance, you are entitled to COVID-19 testing, free of any out-of-pocket charges. Still, be sure to check with your provider and testing center, since there may be instances where your coverage does not apply. If you are not insured, most counties have established free testing centers for their residents. For help locating a testing center near you, visit covid19.nj.gov/testing. Additionally, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) are offering free testing to all individuals regardless of their insurance or immigration status. To find an FQHC near you, use their search tool. If you do incur any fees from your testing, you may be entitled to reimbursement through your workers’ compensation program.