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Worker's Compensation

 

The law governing workers’ compensation claims is contained within RC Chapter 4123. An employee in Ohio may file a workers’ compensation claim when they have suffered an injury “in the course of” and “arising out of” their employment. This means that the injury or illness occurred while the employee was working, and the injury or illness was caused by work. An independent contractor is not eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim.

 

COVID-19: Injury or Occupational Disease?

 

Proof of an Occupational Disease 

 

Workers’ Compensation During Quarantine 

 

 

 

 


COVID-19: Injury or Occupational Disease?

 

Some illnesses occur in an instant, and others develop over time. Where COVID-19 infection can be tied to a specific incident, proof of a compensable claim will be straightforward. The incident that caused the infection should be identified on the First Report of Injury form (the application for a workers’ compensation claim). If the infection occurred in the course of work and because of work, the employee can participate in the workers’ compensation system. Medical conditions that occur over time are commonly referred to as “occupational diseases” and are defined in RC § 4123.01(F). It will likely be very difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of infection with COVID-19 for most social workers. For that reason, most workers’ compensation claims filed by social workers in Ohio will be evaluated under the criteria for evaluating occupational diseases. 


Proof of an Occupational Disease 

 

An employee must show that the occupational disease was contracted in the course of employment, that the conditions of employment present a hazard different from employment generally, and that the employment creates a risk of contracting the disease in a greater degree and different manner than the public generally.

 

Though there is no case decided on point, there may be a basis under Ohio workers’ compensation case law supporting the allowance of claims in situations like those encountered by social workers in the healthcare industry who contract COVID-19 at work. However, each case would require a factual analysis regarding exposure levels and risk on the job. Note that first responders, or those providing direct medical care, would likely have a greater chance of obtaining an allowable claim. Each situation should be evaluated according to its own specific facts.

 

The argument is that social workers, especially those working in the health care environment (or working in hospital discharge), could be more apt to contract COVID-19 because they have a greater likelihood of exposure due to infected patients being in the hospital, and an inability to social distance or work from home, particularly when other workers have been ordered to stay home. For each employee filing a claim, it will be necessary to obtain a medical opinion stating that it is medically probable that the infection occurred at work. It will also be helpful for social workers to submit their hours worked in the weeks prior to their diagnosis, and information on how many COVID-19 positive patients the social worker cared for during that time. If that data is not immediately available, it can be obtained from the employer during the administrative hearing process. 

 


Workers’ Compensation During Quarantine 

Where a social worker is placed under quarantine, then tests positive for COVID-19, and has an allowed workers’ compensation claim, the time under quarantine may be compensable under the workers’ compensation system. Temporary Total Disability payments provide replacement for income lost when a workers’ compensation claimant is temporarily and totally disabled from work due to their work injury or illness. If the social worker took PTO for time that was later awarded as Temporary Total Disability compensation, the PTO could be retroactively credited back to the social worker.

 

Where a social worker is placed under quarantine but then tests negative, or tests positive but does not have an allowed workers’ compensation claim, the time in quarantine would not be compensable under the workers’ compensation system. An injury or illness must occur in the course of work and be caused by work in order to have a compensable workers’ compensation claim. This means that if a social worker is forced to take PTO during quarantine but does not test positive for COVID-19 and have an allowed workers’ compensation claim, there will be no method of recovering that PTO under workers’ compensation law. 

 



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