Workers in certain jobs in New York City, such as first responders and workers engaged in health care, transit and deliveries are facing increased risks of contracting illnesses such as the one that has presented countries across the world with an unprecedented challenge. In fact, some workers’ compensation claims related to this illness have already been filed. But there is no guarantee, however, that they will receive workers’ compensation benefits for this illness even though there may be legal justification for receiving these benefits.

Barriers set to compensation

Many employees in New York City have become ill from providing care and essential services. But many employers have discouraged them from applying for workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits are paid from insurance companies which may increase their rates when claims are paid.

Many worker have been told to use their sick time and disability benefits. Other workers have been unaware that they may qualify for benefits.

Workers’ compensation law 

Workers compensation is intended to allow injured workers recover lost wages following a work-related injury or illness. It also provides for payment of medical expenses.

Usually, benefits are paid for an accident or traumatic event. But occupational illnesses are also treated as accidents if a worker becomes sick from performing their job. For example, asbestosis is compensable if a worker had long-term exposure to asbestos in their occupations.

Insurance benefits, on the other hand, can have co-pays that are expensive. Disability payments can take up to a year which is too long for injured workers.

Direct proof that an illness was work-required may be difficult. But the law does allow the presumption that certain illnesses were obtained at work. At present, this could apply to numerous workers such as first responders, health care and nursing home employees, and workers engaged in essential or pubic services.

Independent contractors or gig workers, such as construction workers and freelance journalists, may also qualify for benefits. Many of their workers’ compensation claims were successful although some employers discouraged the filing of these claims and recommended filing a disability claim instead. Disability claims, however, do not account for lost wages or compensate for the total losses from the work-related injury.

Families of workers who died from work-related illnesses may file for benefits. They may also obtain benefits if the worker died after they began receiving workers’ compensation.

What to do

The law requires that workers file written notice of their injury or illness with their employers within 30 days of the sickness or injury. A written notice or email is acceptable.

These workers also must a written claim with the New York workers’ compensation board within two years. Normally, employers should provide this information. But workers may directly file an online claim.

The law prohibits employers from discriminating against workers for filing workers’ compensation claim by, for example, firing or demoting them. Under a section 120 discrimination claim, an employer who engages in this conduct may have to pay damages in addition to compensation for lost wages and benefits.

There are proposed laws to expand workers compensation for this situation under a heroes’ fund type program. In the distant future, there may be a federal program such as the 9-/11 act.

New York’s compensation laws and procedures may be complicated. An attorney can help pursue a sick or injured rights to benefits.