Traditionally, contagious diseases like influenza have not been good grounds for workers’ compensation claims because it’s hard to prove such diseases were contracted in the course and scope of a worker’s employment. However, it may be possible to receive workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19 infection.
Some States Make Exceptions for Essential Workers
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of states made legislative exceptions for first responders like firefighters, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). Such workers could file claims for benefits if they contracted respiratory illnesses, which would be presumed work-related.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led several states to introduce legislation making similar exceptions for essential workers in other fields:
- Public transportation
- Commercial trucking
- Supermarkets and grocery stores
- Law enforcement/corrections
- Telephone/Internet providers
- Postal and delivery services
- Cemeteries and funeral homes
- Maintenance and cleaning
- Some factories manufacturing essential goods
These employees have to go to work in order for our society to continue functioning. Because the coronavirus is airborne, they might contract it in the course of performing their duties when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes near them. Because essential workers run the risk of COVID-19 infection in the course of performing their jobs, it only makes sense they should receive workers’ comp benefits if they contract COVID-19 during this time.
South Carolina Is Only Required to Consider COVID-19 Claims
South Carolina has failed to pass legislation specifically protecting essential workers who contract COVID-19. However, this does not mean that you’re ineligible for workers’ comp if you’re an essential worker who contracts COVID-19 on the job in South Carolina.
The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Organization (WCIO) has ruled that COVID-19 is a possible basis for a claim for benefits. The South Carolina Workers Compensation Commission (SCWCC) must, therefore, consider COVID-19 claims. The virus is simply not presumed to be work-related.
In order to receive benefits, you must prove to your employer’s insurance company (or the SCWCC) that performing your job put you at a significantly higher risk of COVID-19 infection than you would have run if you hadn’t been working. Your level of customer interaction, as well as company policies related to masks, vaccines, quarantining, and social distancing, can help show whether your work environment was likely to lead to COVID-19 infection.
Reporting and Filing
If you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 and feel it’s probable you contracted it in the course of performing your job duties, you should take the following steps immediately after your diagnosis.
- Report your diagnosis in writing to your employer or the worker’s comp claims administrator at your workplace. Your employer should then file your claim with the SCWCC within 10 days.
- If this does not happen in a timely fashion, file your own claim with a Form 50, which is available through the SCWCC website.
- Visit the doctor certified and recommended by your employer’s insurance company. You may not simply visit your own doctor. Doing so could result in the denial of your claim.
- Adhere to all the doctor’s treatment guidelines and recommendations.
- Keep all appointments with other physicians and specialists to whom you’re referred.
- Take any medication you’re given exactly as prescribed.
- Quarantine yourself for the length of time recommended by the doctor.
- Consult an experienced workers’ comp lawyer.
The Role of Your Attorney
Just as you want to prove to your employer’s insurance company that your COVID-19 infection is work-related, your employer’s insurance company will do its best to show that it’s not. The insurer’s adjusters and lawyers, whose job it is to save money for the company, are likely to dispute your claim or offer you an unfairly low settlement if you’re pursuing your case without legal representation.
If your claim is denied by the insurance company, your lawyer can help you appeal that decision at five different levels permitted by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act (SCWCA):
- Informal conference
- SCWCC hearing
- Commission review
- SC Court of Appeals
- SC Supreme Court
You may pursue your workers’ comp claim as either an accidental injury or an occupational illness, but you must choose one. While COVID-19 seems most reasonably classified as an illness, the language of the SCWCA makes the appeal of an injury claim denial more likely to succeed than is the appeal of an illness claim.
Your lawyer can advise you how to pursue your claim at the appeals level. Your attorney can also present evidence to show that:
- You’re an essential worker whose job creates a higher-than-average risk of COVID-19 exposure.
- You’ve taken reasonable steps to protect yourself from the virus by wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.
- You’ve noted specific places in which and times during which you might have been exposed to the virus.
- You’ve documented email messages, voice messages, and phone calls related to your COVID-19 exposure.
- You’ve been tested for COVID-19 and have proof of your results.
Have You Contracted COVID-19 in the Course of Performing Your Job Duties in South Carolina?
If you've been hurt at your job you can speak with a workers' compensation lawyer. Please contact us online or call our Charleston, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.2359 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Conway, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach or North Charleston office locations.