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COVID-19 in the Workplace, a Maryland Perspective

Maryland
September 12, 2019
March 24, 2020
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Maryland workers’ compensation benefits are payable for accidental personal injuries and occupational diseases sustained by the employee as a result of and in the course of employment. An accidental personal injury is generally considered a physical harm or damage and can encompass a disease or an infection. An occupational disease is generally considered a disorder or illness that is the expected result of working under conditions naturally inherent in the employment and is ordinarily slow and insidious in its development.

A claimant alleging work-related COVID-19 would need to prove that there was an exposure at work that caused COVID-19 for an accidental injury. For occupational disease a claimant would need to prove that it is more probable than not that the COVID-19 is causally related to the employment and that no other intervening exposure was responsible. This proof would be by factual testimony and medical evidence before the commission. The burden to prove an injury or occupational disease causing COVID-19 will be much lower for a healthcare worker treating COVID-19 patients than for a mechanic whose factory closed after a worker was diagnosed with COVID-19, particularly after the development of community spread.

What if another worker at that closed factory seeks workers compensation benefits, not for COVID-19, but for an old work-related back injury for which he remained on light duty at the time of closure? If the back condition is at maximum medical improvement, the worker would not be entitled to reinstatement of wage loss benefits. If maximum medical improvement has not been reached, the commission would likely order reinstatement. What if the factory did not close, but the worker with the old back injury seeks workers compensation benefits because of fear of contracting COVID-19 if he were to continue to work? If the employer is following CDC and state guidelines, the commission would be unlikely to order payment of wage loss benefits.

What if yet another worker at that factory seeks workers compensation benefits, not for COVID-19, not for an old work-related back injury, but for of fear of contracting COVID-19 if he were to continue to work? He would not be entitled to workers compensation benefits because you need to have a work-related injury or occupational disease to collect workers compensation benefits.