Connecticut’s Governor broadened workers compensation protection for employees due to COVID-19. Most of the impact will be felt by your insurance company more than your business directly. What we mean is, when the Governor of Connecticut signed Executive Order No. 7JJJ on July 24, 2020, he mostly addressed the recovery of workers compensation benefits by employees who contract the coronavirus at work. Your premiums may likely increase as a result.
His executive order created a “rebuttable presumption” that an employee who files a workers compensation claim, and who missed a day or more of work between March 10, 2020 and May 20, 2020, due to COVID-19, has suffered an occupational disease and will receive benefits as long as other conditions are met. Most occupational diseases are not covered by workers compensation. Now, COVID-19 is.
What is Workers Compensation Anyway?
Workers compensation benefits in most states, like Connecticut, is a relatively straightforward concept. Think of it this way. If someone runs a stop sign and collides with your car, you can sue that person to recover medical bills, for pain and suffering, and how the accident and your injuries impacted your life. And generally (some states have no fault insurance rules that change this) there is no limit on what you can recover, but there is no minimum either. It is all up to the judge or jury. And you have to prove the other driver was at fault.
Without workers compensation laws, if your employer’s janitor left the cafeteria floor wet and you fell and were injured, you’d have to prove the employer was at fault, and prove how much compensation you should receive. A judge or jury could say you shouldn’t get anything because you weren’t looking where you were going.
With workers compensation, since you fell while you were at work (in the scope of your employment) you don’t have to prove anyone is at fault, you cannot be held responsible, and your medical bills will be paid, a portion of your wages, and possibly additional money depending on the severity of your injury. But, in exchange for those guaranteed benefits, you cannot sue your employer unless its conduct was intentional, or it didn’t have the required insurance coverage in place. And you cannot recover money for “pain and suffering.”
Has COVID-19 Impacted Workers Compensation Laws in Other Ways?
In addition to the Governor making COVID-19 a “compensable” occupational injury, Governor Lamont broadened employees’ right to be free from discrimination or retaliation for exercising their workers compensation rights. Employers, especially small businesses without employment practices liability insurance, need to be careful here.
The relevant statute is below, with Governor Lamont’s new language in bold:
No employer who is subject to the provisions of this chapter shall discharge, or cause to be discharged, or in any manner discriminate against any employee because the employee has filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits or otherwise exercised the rights afforded to him pursuant to the provisions of this chapter, or . . . deliberately misinform or otherwise deliberately dissuade an employee from filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
That is scary new language. Employers must understand the new rules regarding COVID-19 workers compensation benefits and communicate them clearly to employees. Employers should train their managers and supervisors to avoid saying anything that an employee could interpret as trying to dissuade them from applying for benefits. If an employee tells you she believes she got COVID-19 at work, say “I am so sorry you were (are) ill. You can file for workers compensation benefits if you missed at least one day of work.” DON’T SAY ANYTHING LIKE “Are you sure? Maybe you got it at that party you went to last weekend” or “I saw pictures of you on Facebook at a bar without a face mask, you probably got it there!”
Being sued under the above statute is costly to defend even if your business wins. And if the employee wins anything, she will recover her attorney’s fees and could get additional punitive damages.
Protect your business. Know the Rules.