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Workers' Compensation FAQs

What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common throughout the world. 

So what's COVID-19? 
The coronavirus that is currently in the news is COVID-19. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that is spread from person to person. Because this is a communicable disease, it is a concern in venues where large numbers of people gather, such as workplace, schools, athletic events, conferences, festivals, and so on. The Centers for Disease Control has published a comprehensive explainer you can share. 

​What should my municipality do about its employees and the jobs they have to do?

On March 27, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order 121, which requires residents to stay home except in certain permitted circumstances. As local governments, much of your work is deemed essential. It is important that your municipality has identified essential personnel and set up “work from home” plans for those jobs that would allow distance work. Essential personnel that would be required to remain at the workplace should be provided with protective equipment needed to perform their job safely.​ 

What about workers compensation? 
Employees who have general contact with the public, such as administration, bill collections, sanitation workers, are not at an increased risk above normal interaction in the public. Should the employee develop symptoms of COVID-19, the employee would need to have his or her case evaluated to determine if it is as a direct result of the job for a Workers Compensation claim. 

How is the claim evaluated?
The claims evaluation would be conducted using the Rutledge test. There are two prongs to the Rutledge test.  First, “The employment exposed the worker to a greater risk of contracting the disease than the public generally;" working with the public does not necessarily pose a greater risk of exposure than just being out in the public. Second, “The greater risk in such cases provides the nexus between the disease and the employment, which makes them an appropriate subject for Workers Compensation;” the job task is a result of the exposure.

For example, the firefighter responds to an emergency call at the residence of a COVID-19-positive individual, which increases the risk of exposure, as opposed to working within the general public. As a result of this exposure, the firefighter is quarantined and requires medical evaluation. This example checks off both prongs of the Rutledge Test and would be compensable under Workers Compensation.

If we have an employee who contracted this virus due to being out of state and/or flying and if this employee passes this on to others, I understand the original case would not be worker's comp. However, would it be compensable under worker's comp if others contract this from the original employee?            
The injured worker bears the burden of proving each element of compensability in order to prove the existence of an occupational disease within the meaning of N.C. GEN. STAT. §97-53(13). This requires the plaintiff to show that: (Hansel v. Sherman Textiles, 304 N.C. 44, 283 S.E.2d 101(1981) 

1) the disease must be characteristic of a trade or occupation;
a) The disease is not characteristic of the trade or occupation
2) the disease must not be an ordinary disease of life to which the public is equally exposed outside of the employment; 
b) The public is equally exposed
3) and there must be proof of causation. 
c) given the long incubation period & the pervasiveness of the problem (Pandemic), this would be difficult. 

If the injured worker files a claim as injury by accident (N.C GEN. STAT. §97-2(6)), that worker would likewise not be able to prove causation and a reasonable defense can be raised as to whether the worker was still carrying on their usual job with no interruption in the normal work routine.  

N.C GEN. STAT. §97-2(6) Injury. - "Injury and personal injury" shall mean only injury by accident arising out of and in the course of the employment, and shall not include a disease in any form, except where it results naturally and unavoidably from the accident. With respect to back injuries, however, where injury to the back arises out of and in the course of the employment and is the direct result of a specific traumatic incident of the work assigned, "injury by accident" shall be construed to include any disabling physical injury to the back arising out of and causally related to such incident.

What else do I need to know? 
COVID-19 is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation and CDC will provide updated information as it becomes available, in addition to updated guidance. Be vigilant and preemptive. Stay informed and keep your employees informed.​​​