New Yorkers who are on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 and essential workers come into regular contact with this disease. What happens if they become ill? Will workers’ compensation benefits cover their illness?

Are coronavirus and COVID-19 classified correctly for workers’ comp claims?

One hurdle often hinders approval of workers’ compensation claims in general. That is the classification of their condition as a workplace injury or occupational disease. It will be important to know whether the new coronavirus will classify as a workplace injury or occupational disease, as defined by workers’ compensation regulations, or whether it will fall under a separate circumstance.

Definition of an “occupational disease” for workers’ comp purposes

To explore COVID-19 and workers’ compensation, it is important to first understand the general guidelines of workers’ compensation.

When it comes to workers’ compensation regulations, an “occupational disease” is defined as a disease that results from “the ordinary and generally recognized risks incident to particular employment.” The risk of contracting the disease must be specific to the job, not a general risk.

There are previous cases that address disease exposure while on-the-job. In these cases, courts agreed that healthcare workers who contracted an illness after exposure to the disease while on-the-job qualified for workers’ compensation benefits. This precedent, along with a recent publication by New York’s Workers’ Compensation Board stating the board is in favor of coverage, make it likely that workers’ compensation will be available to those who become ill with the coronavirus when exposed at the workplace. Additionally, Governor Cuomo has stated that the City will pay death benefits for any essential worker who is killed by COVID-19.

This is important because workers who become ill will likely depend on workers’ comp benefits to help with the cost of medical treatment, wage replacement and other expenses.

If you believe you contracted coronavirus on the job in New York, you should first notify your employer and then seek legal counsel.