Lawmakers, Labor Leaders Call on Gov. Lamont to Expand Workers’ Compensation Protections to COVID-19 Victims
Even with unprecedented “social distancing” measures in place, many Connecticut workers still face daily exposure to the deadly COVID-19 virus. Indeed, as of April 22, there have been more than 64,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases–and over 1,400 associated deaths– in Connecticut alone, This has prompted calls from state lawmakers and labor leaders to ensure that any essential worker who falls ill has access to workers’ compensation benefits.
At an April 20 press conference, state Sens. Julie Kushner of Danbury and Robyn Porter or New Haven joined with Connecticut AFL-CIO President Sal Luciano to call on Gov. Ned Lamont to issue an executive order to “allow for the presumption of a work-related cause for essential employees who contract COVID-19.” As reported by the Connecticut Post, Lamont was open to considering “added protections for front-line workers.” The governor noted that all Connecticut residents can already receive testing and treatment for COVID-19 at no charge.
But as Luciano noted, private employers and workers’ compensation insurance companies may balk at providing benefits to employees forced to miss work due to COVID-19. By issuing an order making it clear that state law covers the pandemic, Luciano said the governor could “discourage” employers and insurers from filing unnecessary appeals of worker claims. Sen. Porter added that several other states, such as Kentucky and Missouri, have already expanded their workers’ compensation systems to cover COVID-19.
For example, an emergency rule adopted by Missouri following an executive order from Gov. Mike Parson states that “first responders,” such as law enforcement officers or emergency medical technicians, is presumed entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they have contracted COVID-19, or are subject to quarantine as a result of exposure. The Missouri order, however, does not appear to cover essential employees in the private sector, such as grocery store workers.
Does Connecticut Law Already Cover COVID-19?
Even without an executive order in Connecticut, that does not necessarily mean existing workers’ compensation law will not cover claims related to COVID-19. In fact, there is precedent in Connecticut for applying workers’ compensation to workers who are “exposed to an infectious disease,” even if they have not manifested any physical symptoms. In a 1997 opinion, Doe v. Stamford, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that a city employee “suffered a compensable injury for purposes of recovering expenses for medical testing and treatment,” after he was exposed to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. At the time of exposure, the employee was working for the Stamford Police Department when “medical pads contaminated with body fluids of a criminal suspect came into contact with an open wound on the [officer’s] thumb.”
The city argued that it did not have to pay workers’ compensation benefits, as the officer “had not yet contracted” HIV or AIDS. The Supreme Court rejected that position, noting that while workers’ compensation law may require proof of actual infection when it comes to an “occupational disease,” the law also broadly covers “injuries,” which can include “exposure to a potentially fatal infectious disease.”
Whether the courts may apply similar reasoning in extending workers’ compensation benefits to COVID-19 victims remains to be seen. But if you are currently a front-line or essential worker worried about your own exposure and need legal advice or representation from a board-certified Stratford workers’ compensation attorney, contact the Morizio Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.