contagious workets (Huza Studio/Shutterstock.com)

Potential ‘causal relationship‘ requirement for COVID-19 comp claims

With thousands of feds either sick with COVID-19 and others likely to become so, many are concerned about how compensation claims will be handled.

For feds in “high-risk” jobs, the Department of Labor already has tweaked procedures for making a COVID-19 illness claim under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). But for other feds, the picture is not so clear.

“Employees in certain high-risk groups, such as health care workers and first responders, may be eligible for up to 45 days of continuation of pay after a COVID-19 diagnosis without having to establish a causal relationship between their job and exposure,”  a recent Congressional Research Service report notes.

For other federal employees, FECA’s usual requirement that a “causal relationship” between a workplace and an injury or illness appears to apply, the CRS report said.

In such cases, “[The] employee must demonstrate a causal relationship between the disease and his or her employment,” CRS stated. At first blush, this may seem simple for a claimant whose co-worker clearly had exhibited symptoms and recklessly came to work, spreading the virus. But even then, claimants whose jobs are not covered under the special DOL procedures may be out of luck -- at least under FECA -- if it’s unclear how they contracted the virus.

That’s because “due to the nature of COVID-19 transmission, including the lack of complete understanding about how Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is transmitted by asymptomatic individuals and how long the virus can remain viable on a variety of surfaces, there is concern that this could prove difficult for some employees, preventing them from receiving FECA benefits,” the report said.

Advocates and some lawmakers have called for legislation to ease the requirements for FECA claims for COVID-19 -- but, to date, there is no such law.

Bottom line, for now, according to CRS: “To receive compensation for disability beyond the continuation of pay period, and medical benefits under FECA, an employee with COVID-19 will have to establish a causal relationship between the disease and his or her employment. The determination of a causal relationship is based on the case’s factual and medical background.”

Reader comments

Fri, May 1, 2020

Will contact tracing ?identify the causal relationship? Experts have, for quite a while now, been estimating how long virus lasts on various surfaces. Is this unreliable information?

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