If You Believe You Contracted the Corona Virus While Working Can You Collect Worker’s Compensation Benefits in Massachusetts?
It depends. If you are a health care worker or first responder, your chances of recovering benefits are pretty good. If your job does not require you to be on the front lines of battling this virus, your chances of recovering workers comp benefits are not as good. Determining eligibility for benefits will always involve a case by case analysis.
Under Massachusetts Worker’s Compensation law, a “‘[p] ersonal injury’ includes infectious or contagious diseases if the nature of the employment is such that the hazard of contracting such diseases by an employee is inherent in the employment.” The important thing to keep in mind here is you must have contracted corona virus at work where exposure to the virus was a part of your job as opposed to simply contracting the virus while at your job. A few examples from two old Massachusetts cases illustrate what I mean here.
What History Shows Us
In a famous worker’s compensation case Perron’s Case, from 1949, a nurse who worked in the tuberculosis (TB) ward of a hospital contracted TB. Prior to her assignment to that ward, she was healthy and did not have TB. The court held that the employee’s contracting tuberculosis was a compensable personal injury as “[t] here was sufficient evidence of causal connection between the employment and the tuberculosis contracted by the employee to warrant a finding of the board that the disease arose out of and in the course of her employment.” Here her exposure was part of her job.
Another case involving exposure to TB was Lussier v. Sadler Bros., which involved a stitcher who contracted TB from a fellow employee at work. Her work and the shop had nothing to do with providing healthcare services. The employee claimed, in effect, that she would not have contracted tuberculosis “but for” her exposure to the disease at work. The Reviewing Board denied her claim and noted, “There is nothing in the case law to support the proposition that the random catching of an infectious disease from a fellow employee is a ‘hazard ... inherent from employment.’ If it were, every bout of flu contracted at work, resulting in more than five days absence from work would be a personal injury under the act.” Here the sticher contracted TB simply while at her job.
Absent state legislation on this topic, an employee seeking workers’ compensation benefits for a coronavirus infection will still have to provide medical evidence to support their claim. Employers can, and most likely will, challenge the allowance of any benefits if there is another alternative exposure or if the employee’s medical evidence is merely speculative. Given the highly contagious nature of the corona virus, other alternative exposure possibilities will likely be a common defense to many claims brought.
What This Means
I would not be surprised to see the state act on this issue to make it easier for front line health workers to recover benefits because of illness and during mandated quarantines. Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently directed his Department of Labor and Industries to “ensure” workers’ compensation protections for health care workers and first responders. The directive instructs the Department to change its policies regarding coverage for these two groups and to “provide benefits to these workers during the time they’re quarantined after being exposed to COVID-129 on the job.”
If you lost time from work or required medical care due to work related exposure to COVID-19 and would like to find out if it can be covered by workers’ compensation, please call Spada Law Group at 617-889-5000 for a free telephone consultation, or begin a text messaging dialogue with one of our attorneys by visiting us at www.spadalawgroup.com.