Every day, across North Carolina and the country, our essential workers get up, get dressed, put on their personal protective equipment and head out to their jobs. Nurses, line workers, delivery people, cashiers, tellers, and many others go to their jobs and risk exposure to the Covid-19 virus. It is certainly understandable that many people want to know their rights when it comes to workers’ compensation and Covid-19. I will do my best to explain below.
Occupational Disease Categorization
Most likely, one would have to establish what is called an “occupational disease” in North Carolina. Occupational diseases are outlined in the NC Workers’ Compensation Act, specifically NCGS § 97-53. Occupational diseases cover myriad injuries from asbestosis to bursitis and poisoning from exposure to various toxins.
In addition, there is a “catch-all” provision in GS 97-53 where a lot of repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome are covered. Unlike the injuries referenced above, an injured party must establish that the injury/disease is due to “causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to the employment”. In addition, it must be established that the worker is at an increased risk of contracting the disease over the general public.
The Complications of Filing for Workers’ Compensation Due to COVID-19
Regarding Covid-19, establishing causation is likely very difficult. There is no real way to prove that it is more likely than not that you contracted the virus at work versus using a gas pump on the way home or standing in line at the grocery store. That being said, if there is a particular cluster in your work environment, and you are a part of that cluster, there is a better chance of establishing causation. Increased risk may also be an issue until numbers across North Carolina decline significantly. Again, there are certain workplaces like hospitals and meat processing plants where it could be easier to establish increased risk.
What if I Work From Home
If you contract COVID-19 while you are working from home, you will not be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits. However, if in the process of doing your job from home, you trip on something and hurt yourself, that may be compensable. You can read more about what may and may not be covered in our other post.
Although it will not be easy, it is certainly not impossible to establish Covid-19 as a compensable injury. The National Council on Compensation Insurance has more information if you are wishing to dig deeper.
If you think you were exposed to Covid-19 at work, you should consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to discuss the facts of your case and learn about your rights and the best way to move forward.