Can an employee receive workers’ compensation benefits if she contracts COVID-19? Maybe. The answer to this question depends on the circumstances and is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Here’s what New York employers need to know:

Can an employee who tests positive for COVID-19 apply for workers’ compensation benefits?  Yes. COVID-19 can be a compensable work-related injury if there’s sufficient evidence that the employee contracted COVID-19 at work.

Who determines whether an employee contracted COVID-19 at work?  This decision will be made first by your workers’ compensation insurance carrier. If the carrier denies the claim, the decision can be reviewed by the Workers’ Compensation Board.

How does the Workers’ Compensation Board determine whether an employee contracted COVID-19 at work?  The Workers’ Compensation Board will consider:

  • facts about the employee’s work environment;
  • whether the employee was exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace,
  • if the employee was exposed to COVID-19 at work, the extent of the exposure; and
  • whether exposure to COVID-19 was prevalent in the work environment.

Evidence may include, for example, the number of other employees who tested positive for COVID-19, the employer’s safety precautions, and testimony by the employee’s healthcare provider.

How can a New York employer prevent a COVID-19-related workers’ compensation claim?  If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, you can’t prevent or instruct the employee to not apply for workers’ compensation benefits. However, employers can take steps to strengthen their defenses to a claim and be ready to share this information with their workers’ compensation insurance carrier or third-party administrator.

The best defense to a COVID-19 workers’ compensation claim is documentation of all the steps taken by an employer to limit the likelihood that employees could contract COVID-19 at work. This might include that the employer followed New York Forward safety requirements, developed a safety plan and documented daily compliance with the plan, required masks in the workplace, enforced six-foot distancing, and more.

If you’re an employer looking for assistance with COVID-19 safety policies, coordinating the challenges that COVID-19 poses to the workplace, or if you have questions about your changing legal obligations during the pandemic, contact us. Our team is here to guide you through.