Despite a stay-at-home order in North Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people work in jobs that are deemed essential. They are continuing to report to work on a daily basis. Normally, North Carolina workers who become ill because of occupational exposure to disease expect to qualify for workers’ compensation.
A closer look at North Carolina’s workers’ compensation law raises questions as to whether the COVID-19 coronavirus would be considered an occupational disease. At this point, the workers’ compensation lawyers of Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. in Raleigh believe some cases of work-related coronavirus illness may be covered by workers’ compensation, while others may not. Bills currently in the Legislature could change how workers’ comp approaches COVID-19 cases in North Carolina.
If you are diagnosed with coronavirus and believe that you were exposed while on the job, we suggest you contact a workers’ compensation attorney immediately.
Our legal team includes Chip Younce and David E. Vtipil, who are both North Carolina Board-Certified Specialists in workers’ compensation law, and Joe Baznik, who is fluent in Spanish. We are continuing to accept workers’ compensation cases and are providing free initial consultations remotely in accordance with social distancing guidelines recommended by health officials.
Contact us at 919-661-3000 to schedule your free consultation.
How Does N.C. Workers’ Comp Law Define ‘Occupational Illness’?
Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order closing many North Carolina businesses during the pandemic states that certain businesses, essential to the response to COVID-19, to the infrastructure of the state and nation, and to the day-to-day life of North Carolinians, shall remain open. The order lists 29 types of businesses and an additional seven types of retail establishments that are essential and allowed to remain open.
Workers’ compensation pays medical benefits and a portion of lost wages to employees who cannot work because of an injury or illness contracted during the performance of their job duties. Workers’ compensation reimburses the ill or injured worker for all medical costs, including hospitalization, medications, rehabilitation, and more.
In a workers’ compensation claim, unless the condition is listed in the statute as an occupational disease, the employee would need to show that:
- They contracted the disease from exposure at a job site and/or while performing their job duties, and
- Because of their job duties, the employee is at greater risk than the general public for contracting the condition.
Because COVID-19 is a pandemic, some are already arguing that any worker who contracts the coronavirus would have been equally exposed to the virus outside of the work environment. However, an employee in an essential job such a health care worker might argue they are at greater risk of contracting the virus than the general public because their job required them to come into contact with potentially infected people instead of being able to remain safely at home.
In the end, it may be up to state leaders to mandate a workers’ compensation response to COVID-19. Insurance Journal, which publishes business news for the property and casualty insurance industry, says two states – Kentucky and Washington – have guaranteed workers’ compensation benefits for health care workers and first responders who contract COVID-19.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance, which analyzes industry trends and advises states about workers’ comp rates, says at least 10 states are requiring general health insurance programs to cover coronavirus.
File for Workers’ Comp if You Got COVID-19 from Your Job
If you or a loved one of yours has contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus, and you believe it was due to exposure while on the job, you should apply for workers’ compensation benefits.
- Notify your employer in writing. There is a form available online at the North Carolina Industrial Commission’s website, called the Form 18, which is specifically for notifying your employer of a workers’ compensation claim. This should be filled out, signed and given to your employer and the Industrial Commission as soon as possible. If you hire an attorney, he/she can do it for you.
- Tell your doctor. Let any physician who treats you or your loved one know that you believe that your exposure to COVID-19 was job-related. Medical professionals will likely ask about contacts, and you should tell them when, where, and how you were exposed. Of you can, put it in writing. A coronavirus victim may lose the ability to communicate, and loved ones will be excluded from treatment areas, and doctors are sometimes too busy to respond, but putting the circumstances of your illness in writing preserves it as evidence for a claim later.
- Track your illness and expenses. While under care for coronavirus, you and/or a loved one should maintain a record of treatment, time out of work and receipts for all costs associated with your illness and recovery. Be sure to follow doctors’ orders as well as any government orders regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
You generally have two years from the date of diagnosis or disability from the disease to file a workers’ compensation claim in North Carolina.
Contact Us About COVID-19 Workers’ Comp Claims
There are many open questions about what will happen when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. Coronavirus workers’ compensation claims will likely be handled on a case-by-case basis with many employers and insurers disputing claims, which may amount to tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills per case.
The experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., in Raleigh are accepting cases related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We offer a free initial consultation and our experienced attorneys to fight for you on a contingency fee basis (meaning that they do not get paid unless and until you get paid). Contact us ASAP online or at 919-661-3000.