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Where does COVID-19 fit into Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act?

The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Organizations (WCIO), an association of industry groups, has acknowledged this emerging and serious health crisis our country now faces, and the impact it will have upon workers’ and employers. WCIO has authorized new methods for employers to report workplace contraction of COVID-19 to their insurance carriers and state agencies, such as Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

As this pandemic unfolds, workers are currently finding themselves with more questions than answers. If I am sick and cannot work, will I continue to have an income? Will I be able to get the medical treatment that I need? Who will pay for the medical treatment?

Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act provides for wage loss and medical benefits for individuals who suffer injuries which occur in the course and scope of their performance of job duties for their employer. A critical component of a workers’ compensation claim is demonstrating the relationship between the injury or illness and their work-duties. When a worker is injured in a work-related motor vehicle accident, or suffers a witnessed slip and fall on their employer’s premises, it is often easy to show the relationship between the injury and work. COVID-19 presents new challenges as this highly contagious condition is emerging in every state in the country in individuals in a wide variety of occupations.

If you believe you have contracted COVID-19 on the job, you should tell your employer immediately. Pennsylvania law requires that notice of a workplace injury or illness must be provided within 120 days, with few exceptions. If your claim is denied, the claim can be litigated before a Workers’ Compensation Judge. Pennsylvania Courts have held that in order to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, the injured worker must provide an expert medical opinion that the condition stems from the their performance of their work-duties.

Health care workers and emergency responders, who continue work night and day to help contain the virus and aid those suffering from it, may have significantly increased risk to on-the-job exposure to COVID-19. Given the rapid spread of this virus through all walks of life, there will certainly be challenges for workers to demonstrate that they became ill on the job, as opposed to in their personal life.

While this industry group has acknowledged the possibility of work-place exposure to COVID-19 by adding the condition to their list of illnesses, it is still unclear how employers and their insurance carriers will treat these claims. Moreover, we continue to learn more about COVID-19 daily from experts in the medical field. Rest assured we continue to monitor this rapidly changing landscape daily to ensure that we provide our clients with strong advocacy for the benefits they are entitled to.

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