In the past several months, we have been faced with perhaps the greatest global health crisis that we will see in our lifetime. COVID-19 has drastically changed nearly every aspect of our lives. One of the biggest changes has been on the employment front. Some workers transitioned to working remotely from home. Others were directed by their employers to stagger their work schedules. Essential workers such as grocery store employees and health care workers have not been so lucky. These front line workers have been called upon to provide essential services. As of April 15, the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board had seen over 200 filed claims asserting rights under the Act. We are likely to see at least three categories of injury claims as a result of COVID-19: (1) COVID-19 diagnoses; (2) orthopedic or soft-tissue injuries as a result of poor ergonomic at-home workstations; and (3) mental stress claims.
Some states have taken action to create a presumption that an employee’s COVID-19 diagnosis arose out of and in the course of employment for the purpose of obtaining workers’ compensation benefits. Maine workers, as of today, do not have such a benefit. Therefore, it is imperative for Maine workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 to confirm the diagnosis with a medical professional through testing. Once confirmed, the worker should immediately contact an attorney for assistance in processing the claim. Only after confirmed testing can the process be started to gather evidence that the worker was exposed to the illness through their employment.
Besides the obvious work-related injury of a COVID-19 diagnosis, we’re likely to see an increase in claims filed as a result of poor ergonomic conditions as many workers cobble together workstations at their dining room tables and couches. Most workers won’t have the benefit of an ergonomic evaluation in light of COVID-19 circumstances. Workers should not hesitate to see a physician if they are experiencing symptoms related to poor ergonomic conditions.
Finally, the COVID-19 crisis has created stress for all individuals, but especially healthcare workers who have been on the front lines of caring for people who have contracted the disease. Please know first responders who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder are entitled to a rebuttable presumption in Maine that their diagnosis arose out of and in the course of employment – clearing a path towards workers’ compensation benefits.
Whether you have suffered an injury as a result of COVID-19 or not, we are likely to see the effects of the pandemic continue to impact workers in the months and years ahead.