Can COVID-19 be an occupational disease?

A common question in the workers’ compensation community these days is whether COVID-19 infections can be work-related.  The simple answer?  Maybe.

Under KRS 342.0011(1) communicable diseases do not fall under the definition of “injury” under the workers’ compensation act “unless the risk of contracting the disease is increased by the nature of the employment.” Therefore, the inquiry is one of establishing that increased risk.

Some employees are exposed to a greater risk than others.  At least one insurer has stepped up in this regard to offer some guidance and coverage for certain employees.

Kentucky Employers Mutual Insurance (KEMI) says on its website:

Effective immediately, KEMI will provide wage replacement benefits for first responders and medical personnel employed by a current KEMI policyholder who have been quarantined for COVID-19 as a result of their increased risk of exposure in the course of their work. The wage replacement benefits while in quarantine would cover first responders and any employee in the medical field that has had direct contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19.

According to KRS 342.0011(1), workers’ compensation insurance benefits already included coverage for employees who contract a communicable disease due to the increased nature of their employment, however KEMI’s action expands coverage benefits to include the quarantine period for first responders and medical personnel.

‘While our first responders work hard to protect and care for our communities, KEMI will work hard to protect and care for first responders,’ said Jon Stewart, KEMI president & CEO. ‘KEMI was created to meet the workers’ compensation insurance needs for Kentucky employers, and we are prepared to meet those needs.’

The Lexington-Herald Leader reports that few Kentucky firefighters receive COVID-19 tests and that workers’ comp claims are being denied by other insurers while they are self-quarantined and waiting for tests results. In the story, KEMI says it has not denied claims for firefighters awaiting  test results or who are under quarantine.

For non-first-responders and non-medical professionals the circumstances are not so clear. There would have to be credible medical evidence establishing within a reasonable degree of medical probability that contraction of COVID-19 was proximately caused by a work exposure.

See our other post on actions being taken by the Kentucky Department of Workers’ Claims (DWC) in light of the pandemic.

By |2020-03-27T14:58:07+00:00March 27th, 2020|