As COVID cases are once again on the rise due to the highly contagious Delta variant, employers should continue to adhere to the safety and health policies and practices they put into place when the pandemic initially started. Equally important is having an ongoing and consistent investigative and contact-tracing process for workers who become infected.
Although it’s difficult in many cases to determine whether an employee was infected with the virus in the workplace, it’s critical to conduct an investigation and keep track of all infected workers in the event of a workers’ compensation claim. Conducting an initial investigation will help in determining future compensability, especially for those individuals with long-haul symptoms. The initial infection from COVID may not be serious but, in the months or even years with so much yet unknown, individuals with long-haul symptoms could file a claim. COVID “long haulers,” as they have come to be known, are dealing with persistent symptoms such as severe fatigue, chronic headaches, breathing difficulty, memory trouble, and diminished taste or smell, among others.
Workers’ compensation typically covers employees for “occupational diseases” that arise out of and in the course of employment. Many state statutes exclude “ordinary diseases of life” (like the flu). However, the pandemic ushered in changes last year as several states moved to cover COVID – at least temporarily – for certain workers and, in some states, retroactively to March 2020. It is unknown what may occur on a state-by-state basis now that we are seeing a surge in Delta variant cases.
Stay Abreast of All Infectious Diseases
Prescient National suggests that all employers take the following measures regarding employees who become infected with the virus:
a. Report a workers’ compensation claim for all COVID-19/COVID variant cases for employees who believe they became infected at work.
b. Conduct an initial investigation and perform contact tracing for all employees with known COVID19 and variant cases using the COVID Investigation Form whether or not they submit a workers’ compensation claim.
c. Inform all workers who have been in contact with an infected individual while maintaining the infected person’s privacy as required by law.
d. Report all facility outbreaks to Prescient National and complete the COVID Investigation Form.
Much of the information about the virus is fluid, confusing, and still unknown including the long-term impact it will have on those infected. We encourage our agency partners and insureds to contact us with any questions regarding loss control, claims reporting, or other related workers’ compensation issues.