In September 2020, the New York Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) issued guidance related to COVID-19 claims and their compensability under the State’s workers’ compensation laws. This guidance is especially noteworthy because workers’ compensation claims are expected to increase substantially as a result of COVID-19.

By way of background, New York is one of the few states that statutorily requires employers to obtain workers’ compensation insurance.  This insurance provides benefits to workers who become ill or injured due to their employment, i.e. a work-related illness or injury. The recently-released guidance, therefore, is particularly significant because it states that Empire State employees who contract COVID-19 while working will generally be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Compensable claims entitle an employee to payment of an injured worker’s medical treatment for the work-related illness, wage replacement benefits if the illness prevents the employee from working, benefits to an employee’s surviving dependents in the event of death, and reimbursement of funeral expenses.

Because it may be difficult to pinpoint when an individual became exposed to COVID-19, the WCB has said that it will consider any significantly elevated risk in the employee’s workplace and the nature and extent of the work (e.g., in an environment where exposure to COVID-19 was prevalent). Relevant to this analysis are details about where the employee works, how often they worked, their expected job duties, and, most importantly, any requirements to interact with the general public.  In addition, employees will need to provide a medical report stating that their work caused their illness, as well as proof that the individual was infected with COVID-19 (through test results or a treating physician’s examination).

This guidance has particularly important implications for employers who employ frontline essential workers, or who are engaged in operations that may otherwise expose their employees to COVID-19. An uptick in workers compensation claims due to infection with COVID-19 can result in additional expenses to employers, including increased insurance premiums, interruptions to business operations, and other associated administrative costs.

If you have any questions or concerns about this guidance, or how it affects your company, Reed Smith’s experienced Labor & Employment Group is ready to speak with you.