The Difference Between Workers’ Compensation and Disability Benefits with Associated Work Related COVID-19 Illnesses

In Florida, as of April 5th, there are 13,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and deaths have doubled every three days over the past month. Our governor has focused on the need for testing, self-isolation, and the death count. He has placed a shelter in place for four counties in South Florida through mid-April. A Florida lockdown is in effect in the effort to keep us safe. A stay at home order has been issued for employees that are in jobs that are found not to be essential.
Coronavirus Related Illnesses
If an employee contracts the coronavirus as a result of occupational exposure, the employee must have competent medical evidence to prove it. You could be entitled to receive temporary total disability benefits instead of wages, with reasonable and necessary medical treatment.
Workers’ compensation benefits are awarded to you when you are injured at work, and it serves as an alternative to litigation. State disability benefits are awarded for injuries that are not work-related. These benefits are not paid through your employer. The main difference between the two is that worker’s compensation covers injuries or illnesses that the employer is liable for, and state disability is for damages not caused by duties performed while in the workplace. However, you may be eligible for state disability benefits and may also be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits. You may then choose the benefit that pays higher.
Worker’s Compensation Coverage
An employer should have worker’s compensation coverage that includes occupational diseases, but some may not.  The employer must consider that the virus is going to involve significant medical issues, such as determining whether the employee is infectious, what type of treatment is necessary, whether the employee presents a health risk to others and when the employee can safely return to work. After considering such, the employer can evaluate if the workers’ compensation insurance is adequate.
Therefore, the employer must identify and consult with medical professionals with expertise in infection control who can advise on all medically-related issues, including workers’ compensation or state disability, whether it be temporary or permanent, for a competent analysis.
Sometimes COVID related illnesses can implicate OSHA workplace issues. For example, would an employer violate OSHA by requiring a sick employee to go to work? Or, conversely, require a healthy employee to come to work? These issues are complex and have to be individually analyzed.  If you have questions about the liability of an employer for a possible work-related injury or illness, call Massey & Duffy for a free consultation.


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