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Workers’ Compensation: New Temporary COVID-19 Presumption

April 16, 2020

The Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA) excludes some illnesses or exposures, including “ordinary diseases of life.”  For most employers and employees, COVID-19 is not compensable under the WCA because it is considered an ordinary disease of life such as the flu. However, for certain first responders and health care providers who contract a communicable disease, there is a presumption that it was contracted in the course and scope of their employment. The 2020 Minnesota Legislature chose to expand the number of employees who would be covered by a presumption if they contract COVID-19.

Expanded Presumption for COVID-19 Took Effect April 8

The new legislation makes it clear that contraction of COVID-19 will be compensable for certain public safety and health care employees if they have a positive laboratory test or written documentation from the employee’s licensed physician, licensed physician assistant or licensed advanced practice registered nurse and the presumption is not rebutted.

Where the presumption applies, the employer/MCIT will still investigate when and where the contraction of the COVID-19 occurred. If through the investigation, it is learned that the employee did not have COVID-19 or the exposure occurred outside of the employment, there may not be workers’ compensation coverage.

Employees covered by the new presumption:

  • Peace officer defined by Minnesota Statutes, Section 626.84
  • Firefighter
  • Paramedic
  • Nurse, health care workers
  • Corrections officer or security counselor employed by state or political subdivision at a corrections, detention or secure treatment facility
  • Emergency medical technician
  • Health care provider, nurse or assistive worker employed in a health care, home care of long-term care setting with direct COVID-19 patient care or ancillary work in COVID-19 patient units
  • Workers required to provide child care to first responders and health care workers under Executive Order 20-02 and 20-19.

The new presumption includes correctional officers and health care providers within a hospital setting. Prior to April 8, 2020, these employees were not covered by the presumption.  This presumption took effect April 8 and sunsets May 1, 2021.

General Presumption for Contagious or Infectious Disease

After the COVID-19 presumption expires, the original general presumption remains in place. Minnesota Statutes,  Section 176.011, subdivision 15 (b), provides a presumption that “any individual who by nature of their position provides emergency medical care, or an employee who was employed as a licensed police officer under section 626.84, subdivision 1; firefighter; paramedic; state correctional officer; emergency medical technician; or licensed nurse providing emergency medical care and who contracts an infectious or communicable disease to which the employee was exposed in the course of employment outside of a hospital” may have a compensable work-related occupational illness.

Because MCIT members employ staff in many of the job categories indicated above, MCIT recommends that potential COVID-19 exposures be handled in the same manner as any other contagious or blood borne pathogen. If an employee claims exposure to COVID-19, an accident report and a First Report of Injury should be sent to MCIT through the online member portal.

The specifics of the potential exposure should be outlined, including the source of exposure, and whether a test for the disease was performed.

MCIT investigates the compensability of each claim it receives, including any exposures outside of the employee’s work activities or work environment. This practice applies to claims allegedly arising from a diagnosis of COVID-19.

Treatment and Prevention

There is no known treatment for the virus. Generally speaking, health professionals are instructing exposed persons to remain home sometimes up to 14 days. When a physician verifies that the cause of an employee’s inability to work arises out of a work injury/illness, the employee is entitled to wage replacement benefits under Minnesota Statutes, section 176.101, subdivision 1.

Workers’ compensation will pay for tests and any subsequent medical expenses where COVID-19 is diagnosed as a work-related injury/illness.

Currently there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Ideally, the best prevention is to avoid the virus, but when this is not possible, follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Members with specific questions, should direct them to MCIT at info@mcit.org.