New York workers who may have caught COVID on the job in early 2020 are running out of time to file workers’ compensation cases as the two-year statute of limitations approaches.
But local labor attorneys representing both employers and workers say filing a successful workers’ compensation claim when it comes to COVID infections is challenging and has likely only gotten harder since the start of the pandemic.
Unlike straightforward injuries, like a fall or a back injury, COVID infection is harder to tie to one specific location — like a workplace — and that has become even more difficult since the economy and businesses began opening back up, Domenique Camacho Moran, a partner at Farrell Fritz in Uniondale, said Tuesday.
"The first sort of hurdle is answering, ‘Is this a workplace injury?’ " Moran said.
Still, the state Workers Compensation Board said thousands of COVID-19 claims have been filed. Many of those "are approved and already receiving benefits," the board said Tuesday.
"Most workers cannot point to the exact moment or method of exposure to COVID-19, but they can demonstrate the significantly elevated risk in their workplace by demonstrating the nature and extent of their work in an environment where exposure to COVID-19 was prevalent," the board said in an emailed statement.
Jonathan Klee, an attorney who represents employees in compensation cases, said "employers have pretty much challenged every COVID case we have filed."
Klee, managing partner at Klee Woolf Goldman & Filpi LLP in Mineola, said his firm has handled several claims dealing with workplace infection. And although the Workers’ Compensation Board has issued guidances giving some deference to workers in high-risk, public-facing jobs, Klee said it’s gotten more difficult to prove exposure.
"As the pandemic has gone on, it is a little more difficult to show that the exposure was related to work," he said.
While the source of infections that occurred near the start of the pandemic in March or April 2020 might be easier to prove given the state-ordered shutdowns of businesses and gathering places, now, with businesses and other venues open, individuals have more places to be potentially exposed to the virus.
With the two-year statute of limitations on claims, filing on time "is especially important for workers with ongoing or ‘long-haul’ medical issues, as they may also be eligible for free lifetime medical care, as well as lost wage replacement for times they can’t work, due to their illness," the board said.
The board is offering a series of informational webinars beginning Wednesday to "provide information on workers’ rights ... and the cash and/or medical benefits they may be eligible to receive."
— with James T. Madore
The state Workers’ Compensation Board is offering three webinars to help workers who got COVID-19 on the job and those suffering from long-haul symptoms. The one-hour sessions will run from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 9 and April 13. For information: http://www.wcb.ny.gov/webinars/