COVID19 Covered by Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act
The COVID19 pandemic has changed the way Pennsylvanians tackle their daily responsibilities. For those workers deemed to be “essential” under government mandates, their work (in the workplace) must go on. These brave and skilled individuals are at heightened risk for contracting coronavirus. What protections does the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act provide if the virus is contracted as a result of work-related activity? The short answer is wage loss compensation and no-cost medical coverage for all reasonable and necessary medical services required to treat the illness.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry under the direction of Secretary, Jerry Oleksiak, has posted a “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) guide to open the discussion. The FAQ guide can be found here.
Like any work-related injury or illness, an injured worker is required to promptly report all work-related ailments to their supervisor as soon as possible. All such injuries or ailments should be reported within 21 days of when the injured worker suspects they’ve been exposed to COVID19 in the workplace. This will allow for appropriate testing/screening to (1) ensure that the worker receives necessary care; and (2) to prevent the spread of the infection to others. By law, all work related illnesses must be reported to a supervisor within 120 days of the injured worker’s knowledge of work relatedness. Failure to do so will result in the claim being barred by statutory reporting limitations.
Once your exposure is reported your supervisor is then required to report the claim to the Department of Labor and Industry and your employer’s workers compensation insurance carrier (NOTE: workers compensation insurance is mandatory for all employers in Pennsylvania just like car insurance is required of all Pennsylvania motor vehicle owners). Your employer and its insurer have up to 21 days from receiving your report to investigate the claim. Upon completion of the investigation the employer or its insurer must provide the affected worker with formal written notification of whether the claim has been accepted or denied. Pennsylvania law requires the employer/insurer to use a specific form created by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry when accepting or denying responsibility for a claim. Again, these documents must be issued to the injured worker within 21 days.
If a worker contracts COVID19 in the workplace and their claim is wrongfully denied, a workers compensation lawyer can assist with challenging a wrongful denial through the Courts. This is done through the filing of Claim Petition. Importantly, a Claim Petition must be filed within 3 years of the date of exposure/injury. There are some limited exceptions to this rule, but to be safe, a worker should wait nowhere near 3 years to pursue his or her claim.
Given that current data shows COVID19 infected patients show symptoms within 2 weeks of exposure, it is imperative that an injured worker retain legal assistance at the first notification of infection. Skilled legal counsel can appropriately guide an affected worker through this complicated legal system and to the necessary medical services required to ensure a full and speedy medical recovery.
There are many diverse and unique fact patterns outlining how COVID19 is affecting the Pennsylvania workforce. If you feel that you’ve been exposed to COVID19 in the workplace or if you’ve been separated from your employment due to COVID19, the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act may provide the framework for the help you need (and are owed). Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.