COVID-19

Is Coronavirus (COVID-19) An Occupational Disease?

By April 24, 2020 No Comments

On April 8, 2020, the Minnesota Legislature passed bill HF 4537. The bill amends Minnesota Statutes 2018, section 176.011, subdivision 15. The bill provides a presumption for COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims for certain employees. Employees whose occupation qualifies them for the presumption must either provide a positive test or diagnosis to their employer or insurer to obtain the presumption. Under the bill, employees whose occupation does not fall under the presumption list may still claim a workers’ compensation injury or occupational disease if they contract COVID-19 while performing their job duties. 

What is an occupational disease?

An “occupational disease” is a mental impairment or physical disease arising out of and in the course of employment specific to the occupation in which the employee is engaged and due to causes in excess of the hazards ordinary of employment, including undulant fever. A “mental impairment” means a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist.

Who qualifies for a presumption that their COVID-19 contraction is an occupational disease?

An employee who contracts COVID-19 is presumed to have an occupational disease arising out of and in the course of employment as long as they satisfy two requirements. First, an employee must be employed as one of the following occupations:

  • A licensed peace officer, firefighter, paramedic, nurse or health care worker;
  • A correctional officer or security counselor employed by the state or a political subdivision at a corrections, detention, or secure treatment facility;
  • An emergency medical technician, health care provider, nurse, or assistive employee employed in a health care, home care, or long-term care setting, with direct COVID-19 patient care or ancillary work in COVID-19 patient units; and
  • Workers required to provide child care to first responders and health care workers under Executive Order 20-02 and 20-19.

Second, the employee’s contraction of COVID-19 must be confirmed. The COVID-19 contraction can be confirmed two ways. The contraction can be confirmed by a positive laboratory test. Also, if a laboratory test was not available for the employee, the contraction can be confirmed by diagnosis and documentation by the employee’s licensed physician, licensed physician’s assistant, or licensed advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), based on the employee’s symptoms. A copy of the positive laboratory test or the written documentation of the physician’s, physician assistant’s, or APRN’s diagnosis must be provided to the employer or insurer.

An employee is entitled to the presumption if they contract COVID-19 on or after April 8, 2020. The enactment currently has a sunset provision ending on May 1, 2021, meaning the presumption lasts until such date. For an employee who has contracted COVID-19, the date of the injury is either the date that the employee was unable to work due to the COVID-19 diagnosis or due to symptoms that were later diagnosed as COVID-19, whichever occurred first.

How can an employer rebut the presumption?

            Once the employee has satisfied the two requirements, the presumption can only be rebutted if the employer or insurer shows the employment was not a direct cause of the disease. The employer has the burden of proving that the employee, while performing their job duties, either was not exposed to COVID-19 or that the exposure to COVID-19 could not have been the cause of the employee’s illness. The employer’s burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence. The preponderance of the evidence standard means the employer has to prove that there is a greater than 50% chance that the employee did not contract COVID-19 while performing their job duties.

What if I’ve contracted COVID-19 at work and my occupation is not listed under the presumption list?

An employee who has contracted COVID-19 but is not entitled to the presumption because their occupation does not fall under one of the presumption occupation categories is not prevented from filing a claim. An employee can still claim a workers’ compensation injury or occupation disease if they believe their illness is due to their employment. The employee should notify their employer immediately.

Sources on HF 4537: Workers’ compensation COVID-19 presumption:

http://www.dli.mn.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/COVID-19_work_comp_presumption_faqs.pdf

https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/dflpdf/a7308a83-b58d-4578-93b1-1ac3f8475906.pdf

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?b=House&f=HF4537&ssn=0&y=2020

Jack Buck

Jack Buck

Jack is second year law student at St. Thomas Law School.