Twenty-six Wyoming residents so far have filed workers’ compensation claims related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Because of the pandemic, workers who aren’t traditionally covered may be entitled to benefits, attorneys say.
“A grocery worker who is exposed to coronavirus at the supermarket may be entitled to lost wages and medical care,” Wyoming attorney Jack Edwards said, “because they were required to come to work and be around customers and co-workers during this pandemic.”
According to Jodi Bower, the program manager in the Workers’ Compensation Division at the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, 10 of those 26 claims have been denied. One of the claims is in “open” status and 15 are pending. Those numbers were current as of Friday.
“Employees who believe they have contracted COVID-19 at work can submit a claim, and a claims analyst will determine if the illness qualifies for coverage,” Bower said in an email response to the News&Guide.
Edwards said he worries about people who are still going to work when most of the world is staying home.
“Workers will contract the coronavirus while working, leading to lost time, lost wages, hospitalizations and fatalities,” Edwards said. “It’s super important that people have medical care and wage replacement.
“We are talking about a lot of money and benefits our workers need so they can take care of themselves and their family as this disease goes through our state and our country.”
Typical workers’ compensation claims come from employees who are likely to be physically injured at work, like construction workers or linemen.
Per Wyoming statute, “injury” means any “harmful change in the human organism other than normal aging and includes damage to or loss of any artificial replacement and death, arising out of and in the course of employment while at work in or about the premises occupied, used or controlled by the employer and incurred while at work in places where the employer’s business requires an employee’s presence and which subjects the employee to extra-hazardous duties incident to the business.”
The statute further states that injury doesn’t include “any illness or communicable disease” unless the risk of contracting it is increased by the nature of employment.
In other words, Edwards said, people who are being asked to work in a time when most people are ordered to be home need to make a claim if they become sick.
“Countless workers throughout Wyoming are being exposed to infection, hospitalization and death as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “Workers’ compensation benefits provide more than payment of first aid.
“Coverage includes reasonable and necessary hospitalization, therapy, nursing care and mental illness benefits and replaces lost income including lost wages, loss of earning capacity, permanent partial and total disability benefits, and death benefits. Most of the time the wage replacement wages greatly exceed what an individual could expect if they were to go on Social Security Disability.”
Edwards said it’s important for workers to notify their employers via text or email within three days of becoming sick. Even if it’s not coronavirus or if there’s no coronavirus testing available the employee may still be eligible for a claim. Most workers’ compensation claims are made within 10 days of injury or illness.
According to section five of the state Workers’ Compensation Division’s medical protocols, “the division shall pay for the laboratory testing of any specimen collected from the body of an employee in order to determine his exposure to biological or chemical agents in covered employment, if such tests are ordered by the treating health care provider.”
The protocols say that if emergency responders decide someone needs to be treated in an emergency room the division “will pay for ambulance transportation from the place of exposure to the nearest hospital.”
Section five of the documents also says the “division shall pay for hospitalization of the employee, subsequent to his 10-2 receipt of treatment in an emergency room, if it is determined by the treating physician that in-patient confinement is necessary to establish the existence and extent of exposure, and to diagnose the effects of the exposure.”
The worker must prove the burden of injury as defined in Wyoming law.
Find the attached form to make a claim.