Frontline Worker Illness & COVID Exposure

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pip nc jas17 Heather A. Long

By Heather A. Long, Esquire

Nurses, therapists, medical technicians and other healthcare workers put their own health on the line every day as they care for their patients.  This statement was put to the ultimate test over the last several months in the setting of COVID-19, as the frontline workers who we count on to take care of us began to fall ill themselves.  This makes us examine who is caring for these caregivers.

In response to the COVID crisis as it applies to frontline workers, they are protected by workers’ compensation benefits just like every other Delaware worker.  The problem arises, however, that currently frontline workers are held to the same standards of proof that the injury occurred in the course and scope of their employment.  This means that these frontline workers, who put everything on the line for their community, their neighbors, and their peers have to PROVE that they contracted COVID while at work and not in some other manner.  This concept is disgraceful and unjust, but for right now it’s all we have.

As of July, 14 states have enacted or amended their workers’ compensation laws to provide a legal presumption that certain COVID positive frontline workers contracted the virus while in the course and scope of their work. Delaware is not one of those 14 states and, therefore, COVID positive frontline workers here in the First State must still PROVE that they contracted the virus at work.  

Not only must Delaware workers prove when, where and how they contracted COVID, but as COVID can be considered an “occupational disease” the Statute of Limitations to file this claim has been cut in half from two years to one year AND you must notify your employer within six months of when you discover (or should have discovered) that your occupational disease is connected to your work activities.  The unfairness of these stringent reporting requirements and burden of proof that is placed upon our Delaware frontline workers are nothing short of tragic.

As with every other aspect of healthcare, documentation and tracking are key to proving that the frontline worker became infected through their work activities.  Therefore, it is necessary to inform your supervisor and document the illness right away.  Ask your supervisor to fill out a “First Report of Injury” and give you a copy.  Also, make a note of any contacts with other COVID positive persons through your work activities, including names, dates and the nature of the interaction.  

If you are lucky enough to have your workers’ compensation occupational disease claim accepted by the insurance company, you may be entitled to benefits including medical expenses, wage replacement, mileage reimbursement, permanent impairment and disfigurement compensation.  

If you are injured at work, particularly if you work in the healthcare field or are a frontline worker, immediate and accurate documentation regarding the COVID trace contacts is absolutely necessary.  In order to make sure that your occupational disease is properly documented, I highly recommend: 1. that you inform your supervisor in writing about your injury; and 2. consult with an attorney to ensure that you will receive all the benefits to which you are entitled. I offer free consultations with no attorney’s fee to be paid until your case is settled. This gives you the peace of mind you need in order to focus on the most important thing- your health.

 

For more information, or to schedule a free consultation, please call (302) 565-6132
or email her directly at [email protected]

Bio

Heather has been an attorney for over ten years, and is currently practicing Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury Law as a partner at Kimmel, Carter, Roman, Peltz & O’Neill, P.A. with offices in Newark and Wilmington. Heather worked her way through law school as a paralegal in a personal injury firm. After passing the bar exam, she spent several years working as a defense attorney, representing local, regional and national companies. With the knowledge gained about the inner-workings of these companies, she now represents injured workers and personal injury plaintiffs. 

Heather is a graduate of Widener University School of Law, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Prior to attending law school, she was licensed as a paramedic and spent time volunteering for her local ambulance corps. She is also a former mock trial coach for Friends, Salesianum and Newark High School.

Heather is licensed to practice law in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.