Our hearts go out to the people who have struggled with this terrible virus, and to those who have lost their lives or loved ones to it.
New York’s lawmakers and the Workers’ Compensation Board must now step up to the plate to protect any worker who has been exposed to the virus while on the job. I’m gratified to report that some rights are already in place for people who have been exposed to COVID-19 on the job.
If you are diagnosed and can point to a particular moment at work when you believe you were exposed — for instance, a coworker sneezed or coughed near you and was subsequently found to be positive for the virus – then you can file a workers’ compensation accident claim. Many people will not be able to point to a particular occurrence on a particular date, but those who can have a strong basis for an accident claim under the workers’ compensation law.
Health care workers who cannot point to a specific moment might still have a claim as an occupational disability if they worked with a patient or elderly or disabled person diagnosed with the virus.
New York’s lawmakers must immediately pass clarifying legislation to cover all workers who were likely exposed on the job and who subsequently become ill, or, tragically, lose their lives, regardless of whether their claim is easily defined as an accident or occupational disability.
After 9-11, I represented hundreds of Ground Zero clean-up workers who were covered by special legislation. The law must act again to protect New York’s workers and their families. This legislation must cover not only workers designated as essential during the time of the crisis, but all workers going forward, after the crisis has passed, who may become exposed at work and then suffer the consequences of this terrible illness.