Serving Oklahoma

Can Federal Employees Seek Workers’ Compensation if They Contract COVID-19 at Work?

On behalf of Brad Wicker of BDIW Law posted on Tuesday December 22, 2020.

Federal employees are seeking workers’ compensation benefits for contracting COVID-19 at work. In July 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General Audit issued a report saying that about 4,000 federal employees sought workers’ comp benefits on the grounds that they contracted COVID-19 in the workplace.

The report mentioned that the total number of workers’ compensation claims was expected to increase to 6,000 within weeks. The Department has yet to issue a new report detailing how many federal workers filed workers’ compensation claims since the beginning of the pandemic.

Federal Workers Are Seeking Workers’ Compensation for COVID-19

The report noted that in 2019, the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) program paid some $3 billion in workers’ comp benefits to over 200,000 federal workers in the country. The benefits compensated injured federal workers for their lost wages and medical expenses associated with work-related injuries and illnesses.

According to the report, the FECA program was prepared to accept COVID-19-related claims soon after the pandemic was declared in March 2020. One of the steps taken by the government was to designate those in certain occupations as being at the highest risk of contracting coronavirus at work. Those occupations are law enforcement, front-line medical professionals, first responders, and front-line public health personnel.

The designated federal employees can receive workers’ compensation benefits if they can show that “the exposure to COVID-19 was proximately caused by the nature of the employment,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor. However, federal employees in other occupations face a higher burden of proof because they must demonstrate evidence that their COVID-19 diagnosis was work-related.

According to the report, federal employees of Homeland Security, Justice, and Veterans Affairs Departments accounted for the vast majority of all workers’ comp claims filed through the end of July 2020.

Are Private-Sector Employees Entitled to Workers’ Compensation After Contracting COVID-19 at Work?

Whether or not a private-sector employee is entitled to workers’ compensation after contracting coronavirus at work depends on four factors:

  • The employment status of the worker
  • Whether the worker’s COVID-19 infection is related to work
  • Their employer’s workers’ compensation policy
  • Whether the worker complied with the notice and other requirements under the workers’ compensation law

Determining employment status and whether the illness is work-related may be the most challenging parts when filing a workers’ compensation claim after contracting COVID-19 at work.

Under Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation act, only employees qualify for workers’ comp benefits. In other words, if a worker is classified as an independent contractor, temporary worker, or volunteer, they are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

Also, a private-sector employee is required to prove that their illness is work-related. This means that a worker must prove that they contracted the virus while performing their job duties. Thus, your employer’s workers’ compensation insurer is likely to dismiss your claim if you contracted COVID-19 outside of work or while off-duty.

As mentioned earlier, first responders, healthcare employees, and other front-line workers who contract coronavirus are presumed to have become ill while performing their duties. If you were diagnosed with COVID-19 and believe that you contracted the virus at work, contact our workers’ compensation attorneys at the Law Firm of BDIW Law to determine if you can get compensated for the illness. Call at 405-886-9660 to receive a case review.