Ohio lawmakers have proposed multiple bills that would expand the Ohio workers’ compensation laws in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of March 2020, lawmakers introduced House Bill 573 that would include COVID-19 as a statutorily defined occupational disease under the Ohio workers’ compensation laws, similar to other occupational diseases such as asbestosis.
The language introduces a new standard creating a presumption that any employee who contracted COVID-19 and was required to work outside of their home during the time of Ohio’s stay at home order contracted the disease in the course and scope of their employment. This language vastly expands and alters the current laws surrounding occupational disease exposure. Other states are also considering creating a new rebuttal presumption of occupational exposure for employees who contract COVID-19. In fact, Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation Commission issued an emergency amendment last week. You can read about this in my colleague Bide Akande’s Employer Law Report blog here.
In addition, Ohio Senator Thomas Patton has proposed legislation that would provide compensation to grocery store and food packaging and processing workers should they contract COVID-19 at their workplace. Senator Patton previously introduced legislation that would provide workers’ compensation benefits to first responders such as police officers, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel if they were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arising out of their work duties. Similar efforts to expand benefits to first responders with PTSD have not been fruitful given that it is singling out a group of employees, not treating all employees similarly, and thus may not be constitutional.
To date, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has not indicated that he supports these pending measures during his daily press briefings. We will continue to monitor these pending efforts to see if the bills move through the legislative process.
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