Federal Legislation Could Provide Compensation for COVID-19 Front-line Workers
Even as Connecticut officials face increasing calls to extend workers’ compensation benefits to individuals caught on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of Congress have taken the first steps towards establishing a nationwide fund to help essential employees.
On May 15, legislators introduced the Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. According to a press release from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, one of the primary sponsors, the Act proposes a fund similar to the one created to compensate front-line workers after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The September 11 fund continues to provide compensation for first responders and others involved in the cleanup and recovery from those attacks.
Along similar lines, Maloney’s Act would “establish a compensation fund for all essential workers, personnel, and their families, across all industries, that were required to leave their homes to perform their services and became ill or died as a result of COVID-19.” Eligible workers would receive benefits to defray their medical costs, loss of employment or business income, and burial costs for those who have died. The Act would appoint a Special Master to oversee the compensation fund for a period of 5 years, or until all claims are filed and processed.
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who sponsored the introduction of the Act in the Senate, noted in a statement, “We are using the lessons we learned through our decades working on the [September 11 fund] to create this new fund and ensure that we get resources and support out to those essential workers as quickly as possible to support their families in their moment of need.”
AFL-CIO Leader Calls on Gov. Lamont to Issue Workers’ Compensation Executive Order
Of course, there is no guarantee that Congress will pass the Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act, or if it does, what the final legislation will actually cover. In the meantime, essential workers throughout Connecticut are faced with daily COVID-19 exposure. As of May 20, there have been over 38,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, including 3,472 fatalities.
As the casualty figures mount, there have been renewed calls for Gov. Ned Lamont to issue an executive order that would create a legal presumption that any worker who contracts COVID-19 has suffered a work-related illness subject to workers’ compensation. In a May 18 editorial for the Connecticut Mirror, Sal Luciano of the Connecticut AFL-CIO wrote such an order would spare workers the need to undergo “a lengthy appeals process” in seeking workers’ compensation benefits, as many employers would contest the existence of a connection between the pandemic and employment. “These workers are literally risking their lives for their communities,” Luciano said. “At a minimum, we should be taking care of them when they get sick because all they did was go to work.”
This is obviously a fluid situation that will continue to develop in the coming weeks and months. If you, or someone in your family, contracted COVID-19 while on the job, it is critical you seek out timely legal advice from a board-certified Stratford workers’ compensation attorney. Contact the Morizio Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.