The coronavirus (COVID-19) is the first pandemic to hit the United States in 10 years. Fueled by modern mobility, the virus has spread very quickly throughout the world, impacting virtually all sectors of the U.S. economy.

This situation is evolving rapidly. Business owners nationwide are taking steps to reduce employee exposure to the virus by implementing work from home and social distancing policies and providing employees with personal protective equipment (PPE). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Labor have developed several resources to help business owners protect their employees:

As with any potential workplace hazard, proper planning and mitigation are important—and required by federal law. Employers continue to be required to maintain a safe and healthy work environment for their employees in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

General OSHA standards concerning occupational exposure to viruses, including the standards for PPE, may apply to certain workplaces, such as hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Employers should continue to watch the development of COVID-19 and consider whether employees are at risk of exposure. Take precautions to keep the disease from spreading in your workplace by:

  • Establishing a written policy and response plan for communicable diseases that can be transmitted in the workplace—including coronavirus

  • Educating employees about how to prevent spread of the virus

  • Allowing employees to work from home or reducing the number of employees in the building at the same time

What can I do if an employee falls ill?

Human resource experts report that you can require employees to stay home from work if they have symptoms of the virus that pose a “credible threat of transmission” in the workplace, or if they have recently traveled to high-risk countries. You can allow sick employees to work remotely if that’s an option in your industry, and you can require medical documentation to clear employees to return to work. Of course, if state or federal governments announce stricter guidelines, those should be followed.

Small business owners should also note: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that sending an employee home with symptoms of a contagious illness does not violate the ADA, since advising ill employees to go home is not related to a disability if the illness is mild. If the illness is serious, sending a worker home still is permitted since the illness would pose a “direct threat” to others.

Are there workers’ comp benefits for coronavirus?

Workers’ compensation insurance provides cash benefits and/or medical care for workers who become ill or injured as a direct result of their jobs. COVID-19 is a recordable illness when an employee contracts it on the job. To stay compliant, be sure to meet OSHA’s record-keeping requirements. While you’re not required to record a case if the transmission happened outside the workplace, it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly where or when an employee contracted the virus and whether it actually occurred at work.

Is coronavirus covered under workers’ compensation? The pandemic has already sparked workers’ comp claims and more can be expected. However, determining if the claims are valid will depend on the individual circumstances of the event and the state where the infection occurred. Several states have declared that they will guarantee workers’ comp benefits for coronavirus-related expenses for first responders and healthcare workers.

In general, for the claim to be valid an employee must prove that:

  • The illness was caused by conditions specific to their job role

  • He or she had a greater risk of contracting the disease and in a different manner than the general public

However, insurance experts explain that, as COVID-19 becomes more widespread, it will be increasingly difficult for employees to show that their exposure to the virus was work-related rather than a “disease of life” that affects the general public.

In any case, notify your local health department if a team member is infected, but be sure to maintain the worker’s privacy; HIPAA and other federal regulations still apply during a pandemic. And, don’t reveal any infected employee’s name to employees, the community, or news media. The local health department can assist in making appropriate workplace notifications while maintaining privacy standards.

Should my employees file a workers’ comp claim for COVID-19?

Like most workers’ comp claims, claims due to coronavirus will need to be examined on a case-by-case basis. Particular rules may be applied for workers in at-risk industries, like healthcare workers and first responders. Until states individually rule on workers’ comp coverage for coronavirus, an employee seeking workers’ comp benefits for a coronavirus infection will need to provide medical evidence to support the claim, and employers contesting a claim may be able to challenge it if there was a possible alternative method of exposure or if the employee’s medical evidence is speculative.

Thanks for reading our article posted on March 30, 2020. Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As laws change regularly, you should refer to your state legislation and/or an advisor for specific legal counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workers’ compensation insurance or check your current rate in 3 minutes.

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