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. 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 have been receiving extra protection under the law. Governor Whitmer issued Emergency Administrative Rules on March 18th, revised on March 30th, 2020, which specifically provided that certain first responders who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or who test positive with Covid-19, were 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. Michigan Republicans however sued to overturn the Governor’s orders– and the Republican members of the Michigan Supreme Court threw them out. Under different statutory authority, the Deputy Director of the Department of Labor & Economic Growth then issued a similar order, effective retroactively and valid until March 20, 2021 to restore these COVID protections for workers. 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. Please feel free to contact Attorney Robert J. MacDonald for additional information regarding your own specific situation.
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.
If you are involved in a dispute over workers’ compensation benefits, the Michigan Workers’ Compensation Agency is currently open for business. If you appear at an Agency site, you are required to wear a mask. Parties and their attorneys can appear in person on their cases, or with the prior approval of the magistrate can appear remotely by phone or video.
C. Do I have to risk contracting Covid in order to keep my worker’s compensation benefits?
The Director of the Workers’ Compensation Agency had issued a statement indicating that injured workers shall not be required to attend medical examinations at the request of insurance carriers during the lockdown over 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. While there is no longer a shelter in place order in effect, worker’s compensation magistrates have authority to limit the conditions under which medical examinations take place. The job search a worker is expected to undertake is contingent on many factors.
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