Would a claim for COVID-19 be considered a compensable occupational disease injury under the R.I. Workers’ Compensation Act?

If it is shown that the infection caused a disability “arising from any cause connected with or arising from the particular characteristics of the employment,” it would fall under the Occupational Disease section of the Workers’ Compensation Act, specifically, R.I. General Laws 28-34-2 (34). It is not by definition listed as an occupational disease. The employee must demonstrate that the infection was the result of a workplace exposure and no other possible sources.

What makes the claim compensable under the R.I. Workers’ Compensation Act?

An employee would have to demonstrate that the condition was the result of exposure that arose out of and in the scope of one’s work. There is no presumption that it is work-related. The employee would have to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the condition was likely the result of a workplace exposure.

If the employee is directed by the employer to quarantine due to possible exposure at work (and the employer is continuing full salary for 14 days), does the employer’s direction make the claim compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act?

The mandate of a quarantine would not, itself, make the claim compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act as there is no injury. Any payments to the employee for the forced time off would be governed by the policy of the employer, state or federal mandates, and not the Workers’ Compensation Act as there is no injury and no disability.

Can the start of TTD benefits be delayed if the employee’s disability extends beyond 14 days and if the employee receives full salary for the first two weeks?

Probably yes, as most employees would prefer to receive the salary rather than the reduced weekly benefit that is workers’ compensation. However, if the employee is totally disabled, the payments could be seen as gratuitous, which would require payment of workers’ compensation benefits during the period that the salary was received.

If you have any questions whatsoever about any of these new developments or any pending workers’ compensation issue, please contact James T. Hornstein at jhornstein@hcc-law.com (401-490-3952)

Disclaimer: This information is not intended as legal advice. One should consult a qualified attorney before acting on any of this information. This is provided for informational purposes only and no attorney-client relationship should be inferred.

James T. Hornstein is the managing partner of the Workers’ Compensation Department at Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney, LLP. For more than 30 years, his practice has focused on the counseling and representation of employers, insurance carriers, self-insured corporations, as well as third-party administrators and claims servicing agencies in all aspects of workers’ compensation defense before the R.I. Workers’ Compensation Court, the Department of Industrial Accidents, and the R.I. Supreme Court.

(c) 2020 Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney, LLP.