As the coronavirus, or COVID-19, continues to spread through Missouri and St. Joseph, healthcare workers are getting exposed to the disease on a regular basis. It is only a matter of time before they start getting sick.
Thankfully, Missouri law seems to indicate that healthcare workers who get infected with coronavirus should be covered by workers’ compensation.
Missouri’s Occupational Disease Statute
Missouri Statute 287.067 is the law that defines an “occupational disease” in the context of the state’s workers’ compensation laws. If a workplace injury is an occupational disease, it is covered by workers’ compensation.
The statute says that an occupational disease is “an identifiable disease arising with or without human fault out of and in the course of the employment.” This includes coverage for “any employee who is exposed to and contracts any contagious or communicable disease arising out of and in the course of his or her employment.”
While this makes it sound as if exposure to the coronavirus is clearly covered by workers’ compensation, the statute carves out an important exception. “Ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed outside of the employment” are not covered. These include the common cold and flu.
This raises an important question: Is COVID-19, or the coronavirus, an “ordinary disease of life”?
Cases Indicate Coronavirus is an Occupational Disease for Healthcare Workers
Several Missouri court cases have dealt with whether a medical condition is an occupational disease, which is covered, or an ordinary disease, which is not.
Chief among them is Collins v. Neevel Luggage Manufacturing Company, a case from 1972. In that case, a woman got carpal tunnel syndrome from assembling suitcases and claimed workers’ compensation. Her employer fought her claim by saying you could get carpal tunnel syndrome anywhere, making it an “ordinary disease of life.”
The response from the Missouri Court of Appeals was a broad rebuttal of that stance. Diseases are occupational, not ordinary, if they are the natural result of an exposure risk that is higher than the general public faces.
Under Collins, then, workers’ compensation covers diseases and illnesses that come from heightened risks of exposure in the workplace.
This sounds exactly like what healthcare workers are facing when they treat patients who are infected with coronavirus.
Movement to Ensure Coverage for Healthcare Workers
Other states are not leaving it up to the courts to decide whether coronavirus infections are covered by workers’ compensation laws, though. The governor in Washington, which is among the hardest hit states in the U.S., has already announced a change in policy that would guarantee workers’ compensation coverage for healthcare workers who have been quarantined for coronavirus.
Hopefully, Missouri will follow suit.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
Healthcare workers who test positive for the coronavirus will still have to show that they contracted the disease at work, rather than in their social life.