The St. Joseph School District (SJSD) has decided to reclassify school teachers and educators as “essential workers.” The shift in policy is meant to help keep local schools open during the pandemic. However, the details of the policy will mean that the virus will spread more quickly. It will also put teachers at risk of catching the coronavirus – a risk that their workers’ compensation might not cover.
SJSD: Educators are Essential Workers
The St. Joseph Board of Education unanimously voted to approve the new policy this week. The new policy does two things for SJSD workers:
- It reclassifies educators as “essential workers,” and
- It reduces the amount of time that educators have to spend in quarantine after being in “close contact” with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 from 14 days down to 7 days, followed by 7 days at work under close supervision
The goal of the policy is to avoid situations where teachers are in quarantine or away from work, which has left classrooms understaffed.
The second aspect of the policy is almost sure to increase the infection rate in St. Joseph schools. However it is the first part of the policy that matters for workers’ compensation.
COVID-19, Workers’ Compensation, and Essential Workers
Workers’ compensation aims to cover people who get hurt or who catch an occupational disease on the job. However, viral diseases like flus and colds are not covered by workers’ compensation because of how difficult it can be to prove that the sickness was caught in the workplace, and because the risks of catching it elsewhere is just as high.
This raises the question: Is the coronavirus more like the flu, which is not an occupational disease, or more like cancer or mesothelioma, which are occupational diseases for certain workers?
Missouri’s workers’ compensation law does not clearly answer this question. Unlike healthcare workers, though, educators do not work in places designed to treat victims of the coronavirus. This makes it less likely that a Missouri court will deem their coronavirus diagnosis an “occupational disease” that triggers workers’ compensation coverage.
Many other states have passed laws that extend workers’ compensation to victims of COVID-19. Missouri is not one of them. Our state has only issued an executive order that covers emergency responders, like police officers and EMTs.
People who have been declared “essential workers” face heightened expectations to continue to work through the pandemic. While other workers can quit their jobs out of fear of contracting the coronavirus and still collect unemployment benefits, essential workers cannot. If they quit to stay safe, they will not receive unemployment.
Together, these two factors put educators in St. Joseph in a bind. Now that they are considered “essential,” their fears of the virus are not enough to justify leaving their jobs. However, if they do get sick, they probably will not be covered by the workers’ compensation system.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
The personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers at the Smith Law Office strive to represent those who have contracted the coronavirus while on the job. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373 for help.