A new year presents an opportunity to reevaluate the prior year and make any necessary changes for the upcoming year. Although typically this period of reflection relates to healthy eating and exercise regimens, it is also a relevant exercise for evaluating the status of the workers’ compensation system.
In March and April 2020, we prepared for what we expected to be a large number of newly filed workers’ compensation claims alleging employees contracted COVID-19 in the workplace. Given the uncertainty surrounding a new virus, employers were concerned about the volume of claims that could develop, especially considering the potential long-term effects of the virus possibly resulting in costly, chronic conditions.
As it turned out, in Ohio, in 2020, approximately 2,900 COVID-19 claims were filed. Out of the 2,900 filed claims, approximately 1,200 were either denied or dismissed. Approximately 1,700 COVID-19 related workers’ compensation claims were allowed or are still pending. The vast majority of these claims were filed by front-line workers, including nurses, paramedics, police officers and other healthcare employees. By all accounts, this number of COVID-19-related claims is less than was predicted at the beginning of the pandemic.
However, employers are not out of the woods yet. In Ohio, employees are permitted to file a claim application within one year from the date of injury or contraction of an occupational disease. If a sick employee is hospitalized, they may have many more pressing concerns than filing a workers’ compensation claim application. Although we did not see the expected onslaught of claims in 2020, employers may see more claims filed later in 2021. Regardless of the timing of the claim, the main issue for employers to evaluate is whether or not the employee can establish that the virus was contracted in the course and scope of employment and not elsewhere.
Finally, although Ohio did not pass new legislation designating COVID-19 as a statutorily defined occupational disease or creating a presumption that if an employee contracted the disease, it was contracted in the course and scope of employment, many other states did pass such legislation. It is possible Ohio legislators will revisit this issue. Further, it is possible that courts will now interpret that all infectious diseases (such as the flu) may be compensable. We will continue to monitor any legislative proposals or key court decisions and keep you updated.
Information about COVID-19 and its impact on local, state and federal levels is changing rapidly. This article may not reflect updates to news, executive orders, legislation and regulations made after its publication date. Visit our COVID-19 resource page to find the most current information.