The coronavirus continues to infect and kill people in Missouri. However, a mixture of lockdown fatigue and excitement from the vaccine rollout has led lots of people to take riskier behavior. In lots of circumstances, this involves going to indoor gatherings and events in bars or restaurants without wearing a mask.
The employees at these establishments are increasingly being put in difficult situations. It raises a critical question for them: If they get infected with the virus, will workers’ compensation cover them?
First Responders and Healthcare Workers Have Legal Protections
It is important to note that the employees who most often have to deal with unruly patrons taking risks in the pandemic are not the ones that have been afforded additional legal protections by Missouri lawmakers.
Back in April, Governor Mike Parson signed an emergency regulation that presumed that first responders, including EMTs, police officers, and firefighters, who got infected with COVID got it while on the job. This presumption makes it far easier for them to get workers’ compensation coverage for the virus.
Healthcare workers, meanwhile, have a much easier time proving that viruses are an “occupational disease” that they have a higher exposure risk at work than elsewhere. This triggers workers’ compensation coverage for their infection.
Other employees, though, do not have these legal protections.
Most Employees Have to Prove They Likely Got Infected at Work
Workers who have gotten injured or sickened have the burden of proving that it happened on the job in order to trigger their workers’ compensation coverage. If they get sick with the coronavirus, they can go about this in one of two ways:
- There was a specific workplace accident that caused the infection, or
- The virus is an occupational disease because their job put them at a heightened risk of infection.
Under Missouri Statute 287.020.2, though, an “accident” in the workplace is “an unexpected traumatic event… identifiable by time and place of occurrence.” Basically, sick workers would have to point to the exact time and place where they got infected with COVID-19. Even with robust contact tracing, this is nearly impossible.
Missouri Statute 287.067 defines “occupational disease” as a disease arising out of, and in the course of, employment. “Ordinary diseases,” or those that the general public is exposed to outside of the employee’s workplace, though, cannot be “occupational.” Therefore, to get workers’ compensation, workers would have to show that their job exposed them to a heightened risk of the coronavirus which, ironically, becomes more difficult to do as the virus spreads and becomes more ubiquitous.
Certain workers are going to have an easier time proving this than others. Cashiers or other service workers whose job is to interact with lots of people every day are more likely to succeed than backroom workers who only deal with a few people over the course of the workday.
Strangely, one piece of evidence that may become important as these cases wind their way through court is what the sick worker did off-the-clock. Evidence that they engaged in risky pandemic behavior might be used to undermine their claim that they got sick on the job.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
As we will detail in a future blog, if a sickened worker’s infection does not fall within the realm of workers’ compensation, they may still be able to pursue a personal injury claim against their employer, claiming that their employer negligently mishandled the coronavirus in the workplace.