As the world continues to try to cope with the pandemic, frontline workers are certainly having more difficulty with infections. As I posted about recently, Oregon has not taken any steps to deal with the folks who are on the frontlines. The short story is it is difficult to prove one of these cases because the virus is pretty much everywhere and folks could catch it pretty much everywhere, and it is therefore difficult to get a doctor who is willing to say that a person’s exposure at work is the most likely cause of this particular infection.
There is a link below which shows how the federal government is changing their workers’ compensation law and applying it to folks in the pandemic.
The guidance is that people who are exposed to reasonable close contact with the public are going to have a much easier time proving that the infection is work-related. They are not imposing any particular guidance about whether the work is necessary, or the worker essential, or anything else. They are simply making it easier for all frontline employees to establish that their Covid-19 infection is a work-related condition.
Although it is taking time, I am hopeful when the Oregon legislature goes into session that we will be able to get a presumption for frontline workers. It will be far easier to get it for first responders, nurses, doctors and so forth, but we still need to keep in mind people who are working in grocery stores because they do not really have any choice in what they are doing.
As we all struggle with the pandemic, we know that some people are still out in the workplace. Some are, essentially, required to be and some will soon be forced back into the workplace if the state they are living in opens up and governors tell people that if they do not go back to work they will lose their unemployment benefits.
In any event, here are two responses as to how to deal with workers who are in a workplace potentially infested with Covid-19. One is the response of the federal government for federal workers’ compensation claims:
New Guidance on Evidence Needed for Virus-Related FECA Claims
The federal language that is relevant and could very well be useful in Oregon is “the employment related incidence of Covid-19 is more likely to occur among members of law enforcement, first responders and frontline medical and public health personnel, and among those whose employment causes them to come into direct and frequent in-person and close proximity contact with the public.” That is pretty broad language and would cover most of the people who are at significantly greater risk of contracting Covid-19 as a consequence of their employment. We would also want to add a presumption that if those people do come down with Covid-19 that it is deemed as being work-related made retroactive back to January of 2020 to make sure we cover as many potentially infected employees as possible.
The other is from California and is a change in the law that I would favor happening in Oregon. California was able to act by a governor’s decree, whereas Oregon will almost certainly have to handle this legislatively:
California makes it easier to receive workers’ comp for coronavirus claims
I keep hearing that the soonest we are likely to have a special legislative session is toward the end of May. Unfortunately there are a great many people who are working in fear for their health.
Here is certainly hoping that something good can happen, and happen quickly, to assist those workers who ultimately become sick with Covid-19.