Lawmakers in Minnesota passed a bill on Tuesday that will change the state’s workers’ compensation requirements to make it easier for healthcare workers, first responders, and other essential workers to make claims if they contract COVID-19.
Workers’ compensation laws require employers—or rather, their insurance companies—to cover any medical, rehabilitation, and wage loss costs that result from injuries or illnesses sustained at work.
Minnesota’s workers compensation system currently puts the onus on the worker to prove the injury or illness they suffered happened at work. The passed bill will make it easier for eligible workers to qualify for compensation because it works the other way around. Employees would be “presumed” to have contracted the coronavirus at work, and the employer or insurer would need to prove they got it elsewhere. Workers would, however, still need to provide a positive test result or a doctor’s note.
Workers covered by the legislation include peace officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, nurses, healthcare workers, correctional officers, and security counselors.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman issued the bill together with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, and minority leaders of the House and Senate, Rep. Kurt Daudt and Sen. Susan Kent.
“We will be taking up legislation to address workers’ compensation claims for our first responders, police officers, firefighters, and healthcare workers, including home healthcare workers, who contract COVID-19,” the press release announcing the bill said.
Hortman presided over the House debate on Tuesday. She was among several House lawmakers and staffers wearing a face mask to try to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
“They’re putting themselves on the line out there,” Hortman said. “They risk their own safety for us day in and day out. This was a really important step for us to take.”
Concerns about the cost, which is estimated to be between $320 million and $580 million, were brought up during the House debate. Rep. Peggy Scott urged her colleagues to be fiscally responsible, as funding the bill will likely cause a budget deficit.
“It’s very much a concern to me what all of this is going to cost at the end of the day,” Scott said. “We have a lot of things that we have to budget in the next little while here.”
It remains to be seen if more states will pass measures permitting essential workers to file workers’ compensation claims if they contract COVID-19 while on the job. Most states don’t list outbreaks of diseases like the coronavirus among conditions covered under workers’ compensation.
Employers nationwide are anticipating a spike in workers’ compensation claims for COVID-19, and many have started to make policy changes to lower the risk of infection. Some of those changes include offering telecommuting options, limiting nonessential travel, and being flexible on sick leave policies to encourage workers to self-quarantine if they are sick.
Fort Lauderdale Workers’ Compensation Fraud Attorney