Acquiring the COVID -19 virus as a result of a work place exposure seems fairly straight forward. But increasingly, exposure cases have become more difficult to pursue under Florida’s workers’ compensation system. The Florida Statute which governs exposure cases requires the injured employee prove, by clear and convincing evidence, the nature of the exposure. In chemical cases, this may not only require pinpointing the exact chemical to which you were exposed, but also the duration and quantity of the exposure. A task well beyond the facts available in a typical exposure incident.
With cases involving a virus like COVID-19, employers may deny coverage if the employee cannot prove they contracted the virus through workplace exposure. This brings into focus the problems with diseases that are considered pandemics, as the liklihood of community acquisition can run very high. Add to that HIPAA regulations that can prevent an employee from accessing patient health records and the burden of proving your case can become overwhelming.
First responders and health care professionals may find employers are unwilling to assume responsibility for their exposures because of looming costs.
So here are a few suggestions while cases regarding exposure to COVID 19 in Florida come to light.
Read the CDC guidelines for EMS and healthcare workers. There are many helpful tips in their database. Keep a log of any potential exposures. Document the date, time and place of the exposure. Detail the start and stop time of the contact, the nature of the contact; i.e. were you in direct contact, were tests run on the patient, were you exposed to fluids. Make note of any protective gear you wore as well as any protective equipment in use in the area. Failure to use available safety equipment can result in a reduction of workers’ compensation benefits. To the extent HIPAA allows, document the particulars about contact with a known positive patient. Log your own temperature and any symptoms related to COVID-19 daily. This will help narrow your window of exposure.
Limit your contact with family and friends outside of work. If an employer can show you had contact with another person who tested positive outside of work, it can compromise your case. Contact employee health and report any exposures which give you pause. Use your common sense if you believe your exposure to a patient was compromised your health
Workers’ compensation benefits can include wages for lost time from work or in quarantine, payment for past or future medical care, benefits related to a permanent impairment, such as reduced lung function and death benefits. Do not assume your employer will cover you in the event you test positive. Consider taking some of the steps outlined above and if you have questions, call a board certified workers’ compensation lawyer for specific advice or help filing a claim.