As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues, many essential workers—including health care workers, first responder, grocery store employees, and commercial vehicle/truck drivers—have begun to wonder about their legal options in the event they are exposed to or contract the virus in the course of their work. Is it possible to collect workers’ compensation benefits if you are diagnosed with COVID-19?
Understanding Georgia’s Workplace Exposure Laws
In Georgia, workers’ compensation not only covers on-the-job injuries incurred in one-time accidents or over the course of one’s employment but also certain occupational diseases. In order to be considered an occupational disease, an illness or condition must meet certain specific criteria.
- A direct, causal connection between the disease and the employment (including the nature of the employment, the workplace environment, and additional factors)
- The disease’s origin was a work-related risk and the progression/development of the disease was a natural consequence of exposure to that risk
- The disease is not one that the affected employee was substantially exposed to or could have been substantially exposed to outside of work
- The disease is not one that the general public is exposed to; otherwise known as an “ordinary disease of life” (e.g. the common cold, flu, etc.)
These requirements eliminate many infectious diseases from workers’ compensation eligibility, as such diseases can often be considered ordinary diseases of life. Additionally, it can be incredibly difficult to prove that an infectious disease was contracted at work and/or as a direct result of one’s work environment or duties.
Is Coronavirus Considered an Occupational Disease?
While there is little precedent for these types of cases, it is most likely that COVID-19 will not be covered under the Georgia workers’ compensation system, as it does not meet all of the criteria for being categorized as an occupational disease. Namely, proving that you were exposed to coronavirus as a direct result of your work and not due to outside factors will be incredibly difficult—if not impossible—as the general public is greatly affected by the ongoing pandemic.
What Are My Options?
If you were exposed to coronavirus and ordered by your employer to not come into work, or if you had to quarantine due to a positive coronavirus diagnosis, you may still have outside options apart from workers’ compensation, such as seeking unemployment or disability benefits. If you are already receiving workers’ compensation and are concerned about how the pandemic may affect your benefits, we encourage you to reach out to our firm to learn more about your legal rights and options.
This is a constantly evolving situation; discussing your case with a workers’ compensation lawyer is in your best interests. Contact us today for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation.