Q. How is Michigan workers’ compensation dealing with the coronavirus?
A. If I get infected while I work, will I be protected by workers’ compensation?
Since 1943, Michigan’s Workers’ Disability Compensation Act has provided broad coverage to workers who suffer from an occupational disease due to the conditions of their employment. Although ordinary diseases of life to which the public are generally exposed are not covered by the statute, Michigan courts in the past have recognized that if work causes, aggravates, contributes to, or accelerates a disabling condition, workers are supposed to be protected by the law. Any worker who is required to leave their home to perform his or her job duties is being exposed to greater risks than those safely at home pursuant to the Governor’s emergency ‘shelter in place’ order. If such workers contract the coronavirus while working, they should be covered by the law. Most workers will still however have the burden of proving he or she contracted the virus while working.
Certain workers will receive extra protection under the law. Governor Whitmer issued Emergency Administrative Rules on March 18th, revised on March 30th, 2020, which specifically provide, that for the next 6 months, certain first responders who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or who test positive with Covid-19, will be presumed to have been injured on the job, unless proven otherwise, and therefore be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. These first responders include persons working in ambulance or emergency care, county medical facilities, homes for the aged, hospices, hospitals, nursing homes; anyone working in a home health agency, visiting nurse association, anyone working as a physician, physician assistant, nurse, EMT, respiratory therapist, police officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, civil defense worker or corrections officer. These protections should assist these workers get the assistance they need in securing financial and medical assistance they need if they become ill because of the virus. Labor advocates are calling for this presumption to be extended to all workers performing duties or essential services outside the home for their employer during the COVID-19 shelter in place order.
B. I have a pending workers’ compensation claim. How is the COVID-19 outbreak going to affect my claim?
Employers and insurance carriers are still required to pay all workers’ compensation benefits owing to Michigan injured workers. Insurance companies were exempted from the order to shut down and should still be paying injured workers. Doctors and other medical providers who treat injured workers are still allowed to treat injured workers for their injuries.
If you are involved in a dispute over workers’ compensation benefits, the Michigan Workers’ Compensation Agency has at this time indicated that it is open for business, but that it will attempt to conduct proceedings through teleconferencing as much as possible. Pretrials, motions, facilitations and settlement hearings can be arranged by contacting the Agency or the magistrate. The Agency remains committed to providing in-person trials during this crisis if the parties believe one is necessary.
C. Do I have to leave my home in violation of the Governor’s order in order to keep my worker’s compensation benefits?
The Director of the Workers’ Compensation Agency has issued a statement indicating that injured workers shall not be required to attend medical examinations at the request of insurance carriers during the COVID-19 crisis, and that benefits should not be reduced or terminated because workers are not out looking for new work during the COVID-19 crisis. The Director has indicated that if insurance carriers retaliate against workers for asserting their right to stay home pursuant to the Governor’s order, there will be ramifications that may include prosecution.
If you are a worker dealing with any of these issues, feel free to contact me to discuss your individual situation. We are working remote at home and can take your call.
—Attorney Robert J. MacDonald