Were You an Essential Worker? Workers’ Compensation Benefits for COVID in New York

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In the state of New York, you can qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for any injury or illness that is work-related. For occupational diseases, the state Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) maintains a list. If the disease falls on the list, there’s a presumption the illness was contracted on the job—an employer may rebut that presumption with evidence that the disease did not develop from work-related activities. However, if the disease does not appear on the list, the worker then has the burden of proof to show that it was caught on the job.

Thus far, the novel coronavirus has not been listed by the WCB as an occupational disease. The New York legislature currently has two bills pending that address the issue. The first, introduced in March, 2020, would amend the work comp laws to “create a presumption that impairment of health caused by COVID-19 was incurred in the performance and discharge” of certain duties. That proposed law, however, includes only certain police, parole and probation officers and other emergency responders.

A second law, introduced in early May, would designate the coronavirus as an occupational diseases for all essential workers who have come in contact with COVID-19 on the job and have tested positive for the virus. That bill would make the novel coronavirus an occupational disease for all workers  who come in contact with “the public, patients, inmates, residents, parolees, clients, students, customers, diners, travelers, or persons in custody of a governmental body” during the course of their employment. It’s coverage applies, but is not limited to, individuals who “work in a hospital, medical facility, laboratory, medical office, nursing home, correctional facility, mental health facility, social services facility, airport, bus station, train station, subway station, park, restaurant, cafeteria, retail facility, airplane, bus, train, subway, university, college, school, daycare facility, hotel, resort, casino, convention center or meeting facility.”

As of early December, 2020, both bills are in legislative committee.

WCB officials note, however, that even though the virus has not been officially categorized as an occupational disease, some insurance companies have voluntarily provided benefits to workers in essential occupations.

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