Is COVID-19 a workers' compensation claim in Ohio?

In Ohio, employees who are disabled due to the contraction of an occupational disease or are the dependents of an employee whose death is caused by an occupational disease are entitled to compensation under Ohio’s Workers’ Compensation system.  In light of the current pandemic, an issue of concern for employers in Ohio is whether an employee may have a workers’ compensation claim if the employees contracts COVID-19 in a work related setting.

Ohio has a scheduled list of occupational diseases including: Anthrax, Glanders, and Poisoning due to exposure to Lead, Mercury, Arsenic, Benzol, Petroleum, Carbon Bisulphide, Wood Alcohol, Carbon Dioxide, Brass or Zinc, Manganese Dioxide, Radium, Sulphur Dioxide, and Potassium Cyanide.  Other scheduled occupational diseases include Infections, Inflammation and certain cancers, Compressed Air Illness, Tenosynovitis and Prepatellar Bursitis, Berylliosis, Cardiovascular or Respiratory Disease and Cancer for firefighters or police officers, Silicosis, “black lung disease”, and Asbestosis.

Noticeably missing from the scheduled list is COVID-19, a communicable disease. For an employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 to have a compensable non-scheduled occupational workers’ compensation claim, all three criteria must exist:

  1. the disease is contracted in the course of employment,
  2. the disease is peculiar to the employee’s employment by its causes and the characteristics of its manifestation or the conditions of employment result in a hazard which distinguishes the employment in character from employment generally, and
  3. the employment creates a risk of contracting the disease in a greater degree and in a different manner than the public generally. 

Generally, communicable diseases like COVID-19 are not workers’ compensation claims because people are exposed in a variety of ways, and few jobs have a hazard or a risk of getting the diseases in a greater degree or a different manner than general public.  However, there are certain positions or circumstances where a claim may be allowed.  For example, health care providers, first responders, or employees who are required to travel for their job may be in positions that do create a special hazard or risk. If those employees were to contract COVID-19 from work exposure, it is possible that the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation could allow their claims.

To prevent COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims, employers should follow the guidelines established by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) including encouraging sick employees to stay home, separating sick employees, emphasizing respiratory etiquette, hand hygiene, and advising employees to check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices (http://www.cdc.gov/travel) for the latest guidance regarding travel. 

For questions regarding COVID-19 and workers’ compensation claim issues, please contact your workers’ compensation specialist at McDonald Hopkins LLC.

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