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Workers’ Comp Claims for In-Class Teachers Who Contract Covid-19

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Some students in the USA are preparing to return the classroom, and others are certain to return the next six weeks. That means teachers will be returning to the classroom too. Many teachers have legitimate concerns over the COVID-19 virus being passed on to them at work. What comes to issue is the question of whether they’re covered for that condition by workers’ compensation insurance.

The general rule across the United States is that teachers aren’t covered by workers’ compensation laws for a COVID-19 infection claim. The rationale behind this rule is that it’s unlikely that a teacher would be able to prove that he or she acquired the virus at work. However, several states including California, Vermont, Alaska, and others have made Workers Comp available for COVID-19 infection for teachers and other frontline workers.

What is Workers Compensation and What Does it Cover?

Workers Compensation is designed to cover costs related to an injury or illness that was sustained as a direct result of their employment. Workers Comp policies are governed by individual state laws, but the benefits are paid out through a private insurance company that is delegated to cover the employees. Employers pay premiums to the insurance company, and the insurance company pays for the damages when an employee is seriously injured, or in this case, infected.

Who is Eligible for Workers Compensation Benefits?

In order to be eligible for Workers Comp, the victim must be an actual employee of the company. Employees typically are hired for an indefinite period of time, have an established pay rate, and are given clear job duties. As an established employee, employers must pay Workers Comp insurance on their behalf. By doing so, these employees are covered under a Workers Comp claim.

This excludes freelance or independent contract workers. Freelance workers and independent contractors are typically hired to complete a certain task or project. Their pay is determined through a contract or agreement. Also, independent workers are responsible for managing their own taxes and expenses. Since independent contractors and freelance workers are not employees or regular workers of the company, employers are not paying Workers Comp insurance on their behalf. This makes them ineligible for a Workers Compensation claim. However, they have alternative legal options depending on the nature of their illness or injury.

This is an important distinction. In some states, teachers are considered independent contractors. This is especially true for substitute teachers who have been going unpaid during the Covid-19 crisis. Fortunately, they have been able to get some federal relief that was designated for independent contractors and self-employed workers.

Occupational Diseases

All states contemplate occupational diseases as being compensable under their workers’ compensation laws. COVID-19 might be classified as an occupational disease. An occupational disease would be any illness that is associated with a particular job or industry like mesothelioma in the asbestos removal industry or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or lung cancer with employees who are continually exposed to diesel fumes.

The Lack of a Reasonable Degree of Reasonable Certainty of the Source

The above disorders develop from known risks of employment under specific employment conditions. It’s unlikely that they’d be contracted at the grocery store or by attending a sports activity. There is a direct connection between the type of employment and the type of compensable condition. What distinguishes a COVID-19 workers’ compensation claim from a recognized occupational disease is that it can be extremely difficult to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the COVID-19 virus was transmitted at school that a teacher works in. It could have come from somewhere else two weeks before school even started, or it could have come when school was in session, but from airborne particulates when an asymptomatic individual sneezed at a hardware store. In nearly all cases, nobody knows within any reasonable degree of medical certainty of how or when they acquired the virus.

Rebuttable Presumption COVID-19 States

At least eight states have now amended their workers’ compensation laws to make them more accommodating to COVID-19 victims, including teachers and other frontline workers, who seek workers’ compensation benefits. Those include California, Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Vermont.

In California and other states, a rebuttable legal presumption now exists that workers who acquire COVID-19 are presumed to have been contaminated at their places of employment and covered by workers’ compensation benefits.

The burden is on the employer to prove that the employee contracted the virus elsewhere. What that means is that for the foreseeable future, most COVID-19 cases will be covered by workers’ compensation insurance in the states that have amended their laws accordingly.

Even if a teacher isn’t in a state that has enacted the COVID-19 presumption, a school district can’t prohibit him or her from filing COVID-19 workers’ compensation claim. Regardless of the fact that clear and convincing evidence of the transmission of COVID-19 at the workplace is required, you can still pursue a Workers’ Comp claim. State legislators who oppose implementation of a presumption are discussing legal immunity for school districts that choose to reopen for the fall for in-classroom education. With or without a presumption, appeals are expected to start working their way through the courts in 2021.

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