UNITED STATES—An executive order signed in early June 2020, gives workers the legal “benefit of the doubt” that their positive test for the Coronavirus means they contracted it at work—even without having to prove it. This is great news for workers because if WC can’t prove that the virus came from somewhere else, then they get all their medical bills paid, any lost wages past and future and death benefits for their family if they succumb to the virus, and all future lost wages because of the virus.
Critics of the rule say that it will cost too much, and it sets a bad precedence putting the burden of proof on the employer that the worker didn’t get the virus at work before they can deny the claim.
According to Sacramento Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Alice Strombom, before benefits under N 62-20 can be triggered, any other benefits such as sick leave must be exhausted. Governor Newsome also drastically reduced the period of time in which an employer must deny a workers’ compensation claim from 90 days to 30 days after the claim form is filed in COVID-19 cases.
Thirty Days to Prove the Unprovable
The problem for many companies is that it’s really difficult—some say impossible—to prove where the virus came from, and the rules only give the company 30 days to submit their proof or the sickness will be deemed a work-related injury.
Proponents of the rule say that without the rule, workers would have the same uphill climb trying to prove that they got the virus at work, and this would mean fewer COVID-19 diagnoses would be deemed work-related.
How would a Company Rebut the Worker’s Presumption?
Since the presumption is now on the employer to show that the worker got the virus somewhere else, the employer is allowed to submit some evidence to rebut the presumption. The rules allow the employer to show certain circumstances that might indicate the virus was contracted anywhere but work:
- The employee didn’t stay at home per the order
- Exposure to anyone outside work who had COVID-19
- Didn’t work during possible contraction times
- Worked at home
- Medical records showing a contrary diagnosis
High Costs for WC?
In May of 2020, the Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) issued a report that revised earlier estimates and now predicts that the cost of COVID-19 on the California Workers Compensation system will be $1.1 billion. This assumes that 46,000 claims will come in on top of the 4,000 that had already been made as of May 19.
Not all states have followed California, in fact, in some ways, none have. Most states that have passed laws or executive orders that create a similar presumption have limited it to certain worker groups like healthcare and first responders—admittedly groups that would have an easier time proving that their virus illness came from work.
However, California stands alone by including all types of employment, so long as the worker went to a workplace where there were other employees or people.
It’s too early to tell what long-term effect this order will have on businesses. Some say that even though workers will be helped out, it puts too much on businesses that are already struggling to stay afloat with all of the shutdown orders and the lack of customers.