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This article will address the seven most common questions workers have about being exposed to the coronavirus in and out of the workplace, contracting COVID-19, and eligibility for workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, and pandemic federal benefits during and after this health crisis.

Questions #1: Who Can Get Workers’ Compensation for COVID-19?

An employee (not independent contractor) who contracts COVID-19 while performing his or her regular work duties will be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, in the form of lost wages and medical expenses.

Employees in medical professions are most likely to be eligible for workers’ compensation even if they do not work directly with COVID-19 patients because many people who have and are spreading the coronavirus are asymptomatic.

For this reason, first responders will also likely be eligible for workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 from workplace exposure to the coronavirus.

Question #2: What if I Cannot Follow Social Distancing Protocols at Work?

There are many professions and jobs requiring close contact with the public or with clients or customers, and again, because many carriers of the coronavirus are asymptomatic, there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of contracting COVID-19 even when masks are worn and the workplace is regularly disinfected.

Such workers may include anyone who must touch a client or customer, such as hairdressers, barbers, manicurists, tailors, and the like. Anyone who is necessarily trapped in a close environment with others, such as chauffeurs, retail cash register workers, postal clerks, and the like, may also qualify for workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 due to workplace exposure to the coronavirus.

Question #3: What if I Work in an Essential Business or Critical Infrastructure?

Many are forced to report to work despite close working conditions because their work has been deemed essential or critical. The CDC has set guidelines for these employers to minimize employees’ risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Preventative measures do not completely eliminate the risk of contracting COVID-19 at work. If you work for an essential business or as part of critical infrastructure and contract COVID-19 dude to workplace exposure to the coronavirus, you will likely be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Question #4: How do I Know If I Have COVID-19?

Many people experience only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Still, these people are able to transmit the disease to someone who is at risk for the more serious symptoms, so everyone should be wearing masks to protect themselves and others.

If you’ve contracted COVID-19, one, some, or several of the following symptoms may appear two- to fourteen days after exposure:

●     Headache

●     Dry cough

●     Shortness of breath

●     Difficulty breathing

●     Fever

●     Chills

●     Muscle or joint pain

●     Sore throat

●     Loss of taste

●     Loss of smell

If you have any of these symptoms, inform your employer immediately. You may be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

If you or someone close to you is experiencing any of the following more severe symptoms, call a doctor or emergency room for instructions on how to get treatment:

●     Extreme difficulty breathing

●     Chest pain or pressure

●     Confusion

●     Cannot wake up or stay awake

●     Lips or face appear bluish

These symptoms can lead to death. Be sure to seek medical treatment as soon as you can.

Question #5: I Think I was Exposed to the Coronavirus at Work, What Should I Do?

Inform your manager or supervisor immediately. You will likely be asked to self-quarantine for fourteen days. If you cannot work from home, your employer may be able to continue to pay you if they received any pandemic payroll assistance.

If your employer cannot pay you during quarantine, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits if told to stay home, or, if you confirm you have COVID-19 and caught it at work, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Question #6: I Think I was Exposed to the Coronavirus Outside of Work, What Should I Do?

Again, inform your manager or supervisor and self-quarantine for fourteen days. You will not be eligible for workers’ compensation. Instead, apply for unemployment and federal pandemic unemployment assistance through your state’s Department of Labor for the time you are out of work.

Question #7: I Had COVID-19 and Have Recovered as Much as I Can, But Cannot Work. What Can I Do?

Many workers who experience the more severe symptoms of COVID-19 will also experience lingering ill effects which may impact their ability to perform their regular job duties. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) may be one of them. COPD is a chronic inflammation of the lungs impairing the flow of oxygen to the body.

People with COPD often need assistance breathing. They may be on oxygen or may be placed on a ventilator in severe cases. If the worker caught COVID-19 at work and suffers COPD following recovery from COVID-19, and the COPD impairs the worker’s ability to perform their job, the worker may be eligible for light duties and partial or total disability workers’ compensation payments.

The effect of COVID-19 on workers is playing out right before our eyes. We will have to wait and see what temporary or permanent effects COVID-19 will have on the workforce. In the meantime, all workers should take precautions, monitor for symptoms, and apply for every kind of assistance they may be eligible for if they are out of work due to coronavirus exposure or contracting COVID-19.

About the Author

Veronica Baxter is a blogger and legal assistant living and working in the great city of Philadelphia. She frequently works with Larry Pitt, Esq. a busy Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer.


COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation FAQ
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