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Workplace Injury and Coronavirus

Factory workers with face mask protect from outbreak of Corona Virus Disease 2019 or COVID-19.

New York has been hit harder than any other state by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. As quarantine and social distancing measures start to take effect, however, many governments around the country are attempting to roll out steps to reopen businesses and jumpstart the economy. If you are an essential employee who has continued to work during the outbreak, or if your employer reopens in the near future, what happens if you contract the coronavirus? Will you be covered by workers’ compensation? Continue reading for a discussion of New York workers’ compensation law and the coronavirus, and speak with a dedicated Manhattan workers’ compensation lawyer if you or a loved one has been hurt on the job in New York City.

Workers’ compensation generally

Pursuant to the New York Workers’ Compensation Law (NYWCL), most New York employers must provide workers’ compensation protection for workers who suffer injury or illness “arising out of and in the course of” performing their job duties. Benefits include recovery for medical costs and financial security in place of wages lost. Under most circumstances, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for workers who get hurt on the job.

Is Covid-19 compensable?

Under the NYWCL, an illness can qualify for workers’ compensation protection so long as the disease was contracted in connection with performing job duties. The application of the rules to the novel coronavirus, however, is not entirely clear. Coronavirus might count as either an accident or an occupational disease, depending on the facts and circumstances of the specific claim.

An occupational disease might seem like the most likely category for recovery, but occupational diseases are generally restricted to those that are produced as a natural incident of a particular occupation. Contracting asbestosis from asbestos removal is one example. Some illnesses are specifically identified by the NYWCL as occupational diseases for certain professions. In contrast, for others, claimants must show a direct link between the nature of the work and contracting the illness, rather than simply a condition in the workplace, ordinary contact with co-workers, or other unrelated factors.

In the past, diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis have been covered for healthcare workers, as dealing with disease is inherent to the job. Claims were denied, however, for workers in unrelated jobs such as moving companies who just happened to contract tuberculosis at work because a co-worker had the disease. It is not clear how New York’s workers’ compensation system will address claims by individuals outside of the healthcare profession who contract the novel coronavirus because of exposure at work.

Claiming coronavirus as an occupational disease or a workplace accident for workers outside of healthcare may prove difficult unless New York officially changes its rules. Some states have explicitly modified workers’ comp rules to address the novel coronavirus, but New York has not yet done so. State officials may act soon to address the issue, so it is important to speak with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney about your claims to learn the current state of the rules.

If you’ve been hurt in a workplace accident and need seasoned and effective representation for your claims, contact the Manhattan workplace injury lawyer Leandros A. Vrionedes for a free consultation on your case at 212-889-9362.

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