On April 7, the Minnesota Legislature approved an important bill that will provide economic security for people working on the front lines if they get sick. Governor Walz has already signed it into law.
This email takes a closer look at how the bill specifically helps our health care workers, first responders, and childcare providers who are caring for children of front line workers. Please contact my office with questions or comments about the bill. You can download a copy here.
This is a first step and we know there are other individuals who need protections. We also know that this pandemic is not affecting everyone the same, and it is disproportionately impacting women, Black and Indigenous communities, and people with disabilities with underlying pre-existing conditions. Our actions must acknowledge this injustice and address it in a way that is equitable.
I will continue working with Governor Walz and the Minnesota Senate to address the economic hardship and uncertainty Minnesotans are feeling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
WORKER’S COMP BILL: HOW IT WORKS
BACKGROUND: In recent years, the Legislature has addressed the issue of certain occupations being eligible for workers compensation when they suffer atypical injuries or illnesses. This includes firefighters suffering from a certain type of cancer and a variety of first responders experiencing PTSD.
Under current law, workers are deemed to have an “occupational disease” and are thus eligible for workers compensation if they can show that their disease or injury is directly caused by their work. In particular, they must show 1) “a direct causal connection between the conditions under which the work is performed,” and 2) that the disease or injury “follows as a natural incident of the work ... and the nature of the employment.” (MS 176.011, subd. 15, para. (a)). Current law further provides that an employer is not liable for workers compensation for any disease or injury “which cannot be traced to the employment as a direct and proximate cause.”
For example, a worker can be eligible for workers comp when he suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome and his occupation requires him to make repeated motions with his arms and hands. He would have to prove, however, that the injury is caused by the unique characteristics of his occupation and does not come from playing tennis or a previous injury. Likewise, a paramedic could be eligible for workers comp benefits if she experiences PTSD after attending to several horrific emergency calls. She would have to prove, however, that the PTSD is directly caused by these incidents and that PTSD naturally follows exposure to such incidents.
BILL SUMMARY: This bill seeks to create a much more equitable and workable standard for first responders dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. First responders would not be required to prove a causal connection between the work they do and contracting COVID-19. An emergency room nurse, for example, would not be required to show that she got COVID-19 from a particular patient in the hospital on a particular day. Instead, this bill creates a presumption that a nurse who contracts COVID-19 did so during the course of her employment and is thus eligible for workers comp benefits. These benefits include partial wage replacement and payment of medical expenses.
Which First Responders are Covered by the Bill?
Paragraph 1 on p. 3 lists the following occupations that are covered by the presumption in the bill:
- Peace officer,
- Emergency medical technician (EMT),
- Health care provider, nurse or assistive employee in a health care, home care or long-term care setting who works with COVID-19 patients,
- Nurse, health care worker, correctional officer or security counselor at a correctional facility, and
- Child care providers who are required to provide child care for the children of first responders and health care workers under the Governor’s executive orders.
What Must First Responders Show for the Presumption to Apply?
Under the bill, workers in the occupations listed above are presumed to be eligible for workers comp if they can show a positive laboratory test for COVID-19, which includes a written copy of the test. If a laboratory test was not available for a particular worker, s/he could provide a written diagnosis for COVID-19 based on the worker’s symptoms from a licensed physician, licensed physician’s assistant or licensed advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).
Can the Insurance Company or Employer Rebut the Presumption?
Yes, the bill provides that an insurance company or self-insured employer can defeat the presumption by showing (by a preponderance of the evidence) that the worker’s employment was not a direct cause of the worker contracting coronavirus. Presumably, this could be done by showing that the worker was never exposed to someone with COVID-19, or that the worker likely contracted the virus from his spouse. If the insurer or employer is unable to rebut the presumption, the worker is eligible for workers comp benefits.
Other parts to the bill
The bill contains a few other provisions that should be noted. First, it establishes that the date of injury is the date when the worker was first unable to work because of COVID-19 or its symptoms. Importantly, the bill is not retroactive, but applies to workers who contract COVID-19 on or after the day following enactment (Apr. 8). The main provisions in the bill sunset on May 1, 2021.
Second, the bill provides that if a worker is not entitled to the presumption in this bill, s/he can still seek workers comp benefits for COVID-19 under existing law. Third, the bill calls for the Dept. of Labor & Industry (DOLI) to report back to the Legislature and to the Workers Comp Advisory Council by Jan. 15, 2021.
Last, Sec. 2 of the bill gives DOLI additional time to implement its new CAMPUS case management system if delays are caused by the pandemic. This system was supposed to be up-and-running by Aug. 31, 2020. This section is entirely unrelated to the rest of the bill.