As restrictions put in place in response to COVID-19 are gradually lifted, more and more Hoosiers will return to work. Though people in Indiana are understandably eager to get out of their homes, returning to work comes with an increased risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. For many essential workers, this heightened risk has always been present.
So what happens if you contract COVID-19 at work? Can you receive workers’ compensation or sue your employer?
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at your legal options when it comes to contracting COVID-19 in the workplace.
What is the Indiana Occupational Disease Act?
An employee who contracts a disease as a result of being exposed to a hazardous condition or substance at work may be able to receive financial benefits under the Indiana Occupational Diseases Act.
For example, it’s common for workers who develop asbestosis as a result of inhaling asbestos fibers on the job to file a claim under the Indiana Occupational Disease Act.
As is the case with workers’ compensation claims, the Workers’ Compensation Board of Indiana presides over cases that fall under the Indiana Occupational Disease Act.
Is COVID-19 covered under Indiana’s Occupational Disease Act?
The Indiana Occupational Disease Act covers workers who suffer an occupational disease that “arises out of employment.”
An occupational disease arises out of employment if there is:
“[A] direct causal connection between the conditions under which the work is performed and the occupational disease,” and the disease “does not come from a hazard to which workers would have been equally exposed to outside of employment.”
In other words, workers in Indiana have to prove that their job subjected them to an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. Employees who work in essential personnel occupations (healthcare workers, first responders, etc.) who are exposed to COVID-19 positive persons as part of their job duties may be able to meet this burden—particularly if they have limited exposure outside of work.
On the other hand, non-essential personal workers will have a difficult time proving that they faced an increased risk of exposure at work.
Interestingly, the Workers’ Compensation Board of Indiana recently issued a statement that seems to encourage employers to automatically cover certain employees that contract COVID-19. The statement notes that it’s well accepted that first responders, healthcare providers, and others whose jobs entail close interaction with many people in a public setting are more vulnerable to exposure and possible infection than the rest of the population.
Could things change?
Several states have taken steps to make it easier for employees who contract COVID-19 to receive benefits.
For example, California recently issued an emergency order that, in certain circumstances, flips the burden of proof for front-line workers when it comes to receiving workers’ compensation benefits. It’s possible that similar orders will at some point be issued in Indiana.
Notably, Indiana State Senators Liz Brown, Eric Koch, and Mark Messmer recently introduced a COVID-19 civil immunity bill that would shield businesses and their staff from coronavirus-related civil lawsuits. If passed, the bill won’t impact a worker’s ability to file a claim under the Indiana Occupational Disease Act.
The laws concerning COVID-19 and the workplace are complex and constantly changing. What’s more, each case is unique. If you believe you contracted COVID-19 at work, the best thing to do is meet with an experienced personal injury or workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your legal options for recovering damages.