Medical Professionals: Is COVID-19 an Occupational Disease?

The coronavirus public health emergency has devastated medical facilities and nursing homes across the state. As medical professionals struggle to treat COVID-19 patients, they also risk getting the disease themselves. They would be unable to work if they become ill with coronavirus. But is COVID-19 an occupational disease that will allow medical professionals to receive workers’ compensation?

OSHA, COVID-19, and Medical Professionals

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does address the coronavirus pandemic. According to OSHA, risks for people working in the medical field occur because they have:

“Job duties involving close (within 6 feet) contact with infected people or other sources of the virus. This includes close contact with patients in healthcare…”

OSHA classifies workers’ level of risk from very high risk to lower risk. Healthcare workers are considered high risk and very high risk. Also, ‘healthcare workers’ includes who:

  • enter patients’ rooms,
  • transport patients,
  • treat patients, and
  • test patients, and
  • handle patient samples.

But OSHA identifies risks to workers. Workers’ compensation provides benefits to people who sustain work-related injuries, including occupational diseases.

Occupational Diseases and Workers’ Compensation

In Illinois, workers are covered by both the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act and the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Generally, workers’ compensation insurance covers a worker who suffers an on-the-job injury or develops an occupational disease. For an illness to be considered an occupational disease, it must have been caused or aggravated by a workers’ job.

Notification is important. Employees must notify employers they have an occupational disease as soon as possible after being diagnosed. If the employer’s insurance company refuses to provide benefits, the worker can file a claim with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (the “Commission”). When dealing with a government agency – and to make sure you get all the benefits you deserve – it’s best to hire an attorney to represent you.

Does COVID-19 Qualify?

Most diseases that healthcare workers pick up do not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.

However, the coronavirus may be treated differently.

The Commission issued an emergency amendment regarding how COVID-19 claims will be decided. Basically, the Commission wanted to assume that “essential workers” who claim workers’ comp benefits are presumed to have gotten this disease because of their jobs. Employers would have to prove that their employees were not infected because of their jobs.

However, a judge issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the emergency amendment. The Commission then repealed the amendment.

An employee with COVID-19 must prove certain things:

  • that they were exposed at work or
  • that they were at a greater risk of getting COVID-19 at work instead of somewhere outside of work.

The highly contagious nature of the coronavirus may make causation difficult to prove.

Are You at Risk for Developing COVID-19 as an Occupational Disease?

At the time this blog was written, questions still existed about workers’ rights to compensation for COVID-19. Laws may continue to evolve. To learn more about your rights to workers’ compensation, contact an Illinois workers’ compensation lawyer.

Talk to Osvaldo Rodriguez, an experienced Illinois workers’ compensation lawyer, for an honest assessment of your case. To schedule your free initial consultation, or just ask a question, call us at 708-716-3441 or fill out the form on the Contact Us page.

At Osvaldo Rodriguez, P.C., we represent clients throughout the state of Illinois, including Chicago, Addison, Bellwood, Bensenville, Berwyn, Chicago, Cicero, Elmwood Park, Franklin Park, Maywood, Melrose Park, Northlake, and all of Cook County, Lake County, Kane County, Dupage County, and Will County.

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