More Important Information on Covid-19; CDC and Workers’ Compensation

The start of Flu Season, a potential 2nd Wave of Covid-19 and employers focusing on phased re-openings here are the latest updates and reminders for things you need to know.

CDC Redefines “Close Contact” Under COVID-19 Guidance

On Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clarified what “close contact” means as it relates to COVID-19-prevention guidance.

Previously, the CDC defined close contact as spending 15 straight minutes within 6 feet of another person. Now, the organization redefined the term to mean a total of 15 minutes within a 24-hour period. That means short, repeated contacts throughout the day count toward that 15-minute threshold.

The CDC strongly encourages anyone who comes into “close contact” with a COVID-19 patient to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Employer Takeaway

This update serves as a stark notice that COVID-19 may spread more easily than formerly understood. It may even prompt more contact tracing among health departments and workplaces, especially in situations where contact was previously considered too brief for infection. Furthermore, this new definition may be most impactful in offices, factories and other facilities that have many people in close proximity for extended periods. Such locations may implement stricter mask regulations if they haven’t yet done so, per CDC recommendations. The organization stresses that wearing masks is one of the best ways to fight against COVID-19, especially since many infected patients do not exhibit symptoms.

The CDC has amended COVID-19 guidance before on several occasions, usually adopting stricter positions. With that in mind, employers can reasonably expect more updates in the future.

Workers’ Compensation Changes

Under most state workers’ compensation (WC) laws, COVID-19 may be a compensable, work-related condition only if an employee can show that:

  • He or she contracted the coronavirus while performing services growing out of and incidental to his or her employment; and
  • The disease arose out of that employment (work relatedness).

As of July 29, 2020, however, several states have made—or are in the process of making—changes that reverse this burden for certain employees. In general, these changes mean that it would be an employer’s burden to prove that an employee did not contract COVID-19 on the job, rather than the employee’s burden of proving that he or she did contract it on the job. While most of these changes apply only to certain types of workers—such as first responders, health care providers or those who are otherwise deemed “essential”—some changes apply the new presumption more broadly.

Many states have also taken actions that aim to reduce the impact of COVID-19-related claims on an employer’s WC premium rates.   

This Compliance Bulletin provides general information about the COVID-19-related changes made to state WC laws and policies.

Action Steps

Employers should follow all workplace safety guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health authorities to minimize the risk of employees contracting COVID-19 on the job. Employers should also familiarize themselves with state laws that may impact their workers’ compensation COVID-19 obligations and premiums.

Background

Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system that provides medical expenses and lost-income replacement for employees who sustain injuries or illnesses that arise out of and in the course and scope of their employment.

Each state has its own workers’ compensation law that governs of the process of determining whether an injury or illness is work related and therefore compensable.  Although workers’ compensation benefits are usually the exclusive remedy against an employer for any compensable condition, employers may also be subject to private lawsuits if they intentionally cause harm to an employee or fail to have workers’ compensation coverage as required.

COVID-19 Compensability Presumptions 

The table below provides a general overview of the changes to state workers’ compensation laws that have been enacted to provide a presumption that COVID-19 is a compensable, work-related condition for certain employees. Similar changes remain pending in other states. Employers should become familiar with (and regularly check for updates to) the detailed requirements that may affect them under all applicable laws.  

StateAffected EmployeesOrder/Change
AlaskaFirst responders and health care workers.Senate Bill 241
CaliforniaAll employees not working from home.Senate Bill 1159
ConnecticutAll essential workers.Executive Order 7JJJ
FloridaFront-line state employees.Directive 2020-05
IllinoisFirst responders and front-line workers, including essential workers who encounter members of the general public or work in a location with more than 15 employees.House Bill 2455
KentuckyAll essential workers.Executive Order 2020-277
MinnesotaFirst responders and health care workers.HF 4537
MissouriFirst responders.Emergency Rule
New HampshireEmergency response and public safety workers.Emergency Order 36
New MexicoState workers who provide direct assistance or care to COVID-19 patients or work inside a facility that provides direct assistance, care or housing to COVID-19 patients.Executive Order 2020-025
North DakotaFirst responders and health care workers.Executive Order 2020-12
UtahFirst responders and health care workers.Senate Bill 3007
VermontWorkers in jobs involving regular physical contact with known sources of COVID-19 or regular physical or close contact with patients, inmates or members of the public.Senate Bill 342
WashingtonFirst responders and health care workers.L&I Policy
WisconsinFirst responders and health care workers.Assembly Bill 1038
WyomingAll workers.House Bill 1002

Premium Calculations

The premiums an employer must pay for coverage under a workers’ compensation insurance policy is usually determined based on payroll, measures of risk associated with the jobs that workers perform and the number and type of WC claims that have been made against the employer in the past. Due to the effects the COVID-19 pandemic may have on these factors, some states (including California, for example) allow employers to reclassify employees or exclude COVID-19-related claims from their calculations.

Contact your PEO for additional information and ways to stay organized and healthy. If you are not currently benefiting from a PEO relationship contact Libertate Insurance, let us know how we can help.

This information is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.

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