If you work for a South Carolina business or company that has at least four full-time employees, your employer is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp provides no-fault coverage for workers who sustain on-the-job or job-related injuries or illnesses. Sick or injured workers can claim compensation for their medical bills and up to two-thirds of wages they’ve lost due to those injuries or illnesses.
Before the current pandemic, a contagious disease was not usually considered to be work-related. There was no way to know if it was contracted on the job, at home, or out in public. For this reason, people were not likely to file workers’ comp claims for colds or influenza in the past.
Many businesses are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic so that people won’t catch the virus in the workplace. There are some employees, though, who are considered essential. That means they must continue going out to work despite the risk of being exposed to coronavirus. Some examples of essential workers are:
- Healthcare workers and first responders
- Law enforcement and jail/prison staff
- Cell phone, Internet, and TV providers
- Grocery store, supermarket, and other retail workers
- Public transportation workers, commercial truck drivers, and airport personnel
- Postal, sanitation, and other public employees
- Agriculture workers
- Cleaning and maintenance personnel
- Some bank workers
- Funeral home and cemetery employees
- Some factory workers
In March 2020, the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Organizations (WCIO) recognized COVID-19 as a possible basis for an employee’s claim. This decision made it possible for the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission (SCWCC) to consider claims by COVID-19 sufferers whose essential jobs have put them at increased risk of being infected.
How COVID-19 Infection Occurs
Coronavirus is spread by liquid droplets that travel through the air when someone sneezes, coughs, or talks. While there is some chance of exposure from touching contaminated surfaces then putting one’s hands near one’s face, the virus is primarily airborne.
If you’re an essential worker and your job requires you to interact with people who might be coughing, sneezing, talking, eating, or seeking medical care, you could be at greater risk of catching COVID-19 on the job than you would be at home. It is probable that you’ve been exposed in the process of carrying out your occupational duties. If you contract COVID-19 and can show that your job puts you at an increased risk of exposure to the virus, you might be able to file a workers’ comp claim and collect benefits.
Injury vs. Disease
The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act (SCWCA) allows you to file a claim because you have either contracted an occupational disease or suffered an injury by accident while you were in the workplace or carrying out your duties elsewhere. You must choose one category or the other when you file.
Although coronavirus would seem to fall into the occupational disease category, this might not be the best choice for your claim, for the following reasons:
- If your claim is at first denied by your employer’s insurance company, you are entitled to appeal that decision and take your case before the SCWCC, which will decide each case on its own merits.
- Because of the very specific, detailed language in the SCWCA, it could be difficult for you to prove on appeal that coronavirus is an occupational disease. You might stand a better chance of success if you claim that your COVID-19 infection falls into the injury category.
The complicated language and very specific requirements of the SCWCA make the services of an experienced attorney vital to your claim, especially if it goes to the appeal level.
How to Build a COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Claim In Horry County South Carolina
If you’re an essential worker whose job creates a higher risk of exposure than the average person has, it’s probable that you contracted the virus while you were working. You can strengthen your claim by proving that you took reasonable steps to protect yourself (wearing a mask, avoiding indoor gatherings, and observing social distancing) when you were not working.
Documenting everything in detail is a smart move. Make notes of dates, times, and exact places when and where you might have been exposed to COVID-19 on the job. Save emails and voice messages that discuss your risk of exposure and/or the exposure or infection of co-workers. Keep your test results and make copies of them.
You don’t have to prove fault or negligence to win your case. Workers’ compensation is no-fault coverage. If the SCWCC finds your claim valid for any reason, your employer’s insurance company must pay your benefits, regardless of the details of your case.
You Can’t Be Fired for Filing a Workers' Compensation Claim In South Carolina
If you believe that you’ve contracted the virus:
- Immediately inform your employer, as well as whoever oversees workers’ comp claims in your workplace.
- File a written claim through your employer’s insurance carrier.
- Seek medical attention from the doctor recommended by the insurance carrier (not your own doctor) to document your condition.
- Follow that doctor’s orders and treatment recommendations to the letter and quarantine yourself.
It is illegal for your employer to fire you or retaliate against you in any way for filing a workers’ compensation claim in good faith.
Do You Believe You’ve Contracted COVID-19 on the Job?
Both the uncharted territory of COVID-19 claims and the complexity of workers’ compensation law make the services of an experienced workers’ comp attorney crucial to your case. Please contact us online or call our Charleston, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.2359 to schedule a consultation. We serve clients throughout Horry County and surrounding areas, so we’re sure to have an office near you.