Throughout the entire world people have been trying to find ways to work safely during the pandemic. Some employees have been able to shift to work from home mode. But others, particularly those providing essential services, have continued to work in public settings or at their place of business. The following professions all have a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the job’s proximity and frequency of contact with others:
- First responders, such as police, EMTs and firefighters
- Delivery and truck drivers
- Grocery store or retail workers
- Nurses, doctors, nursing assistants and other healthcare workers
- Restaurant and food supply chain workers
- Teachers and educational staff
Because restrictions and regulations vary by state, it is difficult to fully measure the risks of contracting COVID-19 at work. In addition, some geographic areas have a higher positivity rate than others. To make matters even more complicated, mask and social distancing guidelines and vaccine mandates continue to evolve and change. If you currently work on-site or are getting ready to return to in-person work, you may be wondering what will happen if you contract COVID-19 while working. In such a situation, is your employer liable for your medical bills and your time off while you recuperate?
How Employers Can Help Keep Employees Safe
In an attempt to mitigate the uncertainty about COVID-19 safety in the workplace, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released guidelines and standards designed to help protect employees. In November 2021, OSHA announced a new emergency temporary standard (ETS) for companies with more than 100 employees. This ETS has the potential to protect 84 million workers from contracting or spreading COVID-19 on the job. OSHA previously released detailed guidance and recommendations for employers of all sizes that were required or chose to maintain an in-person workplace during the pandemic. The recommendations are intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace:
- Work with local officials to provide vaccinations to unvaccinated workers.
- Provide paid time off to workers for the time it takes them to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.
- Enforce social distancing and mask wearing for any unvaccinated workers.
- Provide access to and encourage regular COVID-19 testing, regardless of vaccination status.
Maryland Workers’ Compensation Claims During COVID-19
COVID-19 is highly contagious. The CDC emphasizes that vaccination is the best defense against infection, but transmission and even breakthrough infections can still occur among those who are vaccinated. Additionally, regardless of vaccination status, it is possible that some employees may neglect to follow the policies (such as mask wearing and social distancing) put in place to protect fellow workers.
In the state of Maryland, employees can file a workers’ compensation claim if they have contracted an occupational disease. An occupational disease is defined as an illness that causes temporary or permanent incapacity and occurs as the result of and in the course of employment. Some occupational diseases are associated with a particular type of work, such as hearing loss for those working in construction or manufacturing or certain types of cancer for workers who are exposed to high levels of carcinogens. Under Maryland worker’s compensation law, employees suffering from occupational diseases are eligible for 100% coverage of medical expenses and paid sick leave. They are also eligible to receive temporary disability benefits at the rate of two-thirds of their weekly average pay.
Proving Liability with COVID-19
If an employee contracted COVID-19 in the workplace it is feasible that it could be considered an occupational disease. The challenge, however, will be proving that the disease was transmitted in the workplace and not elsewhere. Still, there are some scenarios that could sway the workers’ compensation claim in the favor of the employee. For example, perhaps there was an outbreak of COVID-19 within the workplace. Alternatively, perhaps several coworkers tested positive for COVID-19 within a given timeframe and the employer was found to be noncompliant with OSHA guidelines.
Consult an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
If you have contracted COVID-19 in the workplace, you could be entitled to compensation for medical bills, unpaid sick time and court costs. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you determine if you may have a legitimate COVID-19 workers’ compensation claim. At Waldman, Grossfeld, Appel & Baer, our attorneys have over 150 years of combined experience helping Marylanders with workers’ compensation claims. Our workers’ compensation attorneys serve clients in Rosedale, Reisterstown, Severna Park, Middle River, Perry Hall, Pasadena, Cambridge, Essex, Glen Burnie, Towson, Owings Mills, Westminster, Annapolis, Columbia, White Marsh, Ellicott City, Easton and Bel Air. Contact us for a consultation.