Feds in high-risk jobs contracting COVID-19 cleared for workers’ comp
- By FederalSoup Staff
- May 28, 2020
Feds working in high-risk, citizen-facing jobs who contract COVID-19 are facing a lower bar for workers’ comp approval, thanks to recent changes made by the Department of Labor to the claims process -- and a major union is expressing its approval.
“Health care workers and first responders are risking their lives to serve the American public during this challenging time and, if they contract COVID-19 while performing those duties, they should not have to worry about proving it’s work-related,” American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley said in a May 26 statement. “AFGE has been fighting for presumption of workplace illness for all essential employees working through the pandemic, and this is a step in the right direction.”
Although much of the country has been affected -- with outbreaks in every state and close to 1.7 million confirmed novel coronavirus cases -- it can be very difficult to determine how and where a person contracted the disease. Yet, each day, thousands of feds face head-on an additional, often considerable, risk of infection in their already perilous jobs.
Under intense pressure, the DOL’s Office of Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) changed its rules, highlighting the change in a factsheet on its website.
“DOL acknowledges … that it is difficult to determine the precise moment and method of virus transmission,” the agency said in the factsheet. “Therefore, when an employee claims [Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), or federal workers’ comp] benefits due to COVID-19, federal workers who are required to have in-person and close proximity interactions with the public on a frequent basis -- such as members of law enforcement, first responders, and front-line medical and public health personnel -- will be considered to be in high-risk employment, thereby triggering the application of Chapter 2-0805-6 of the FECA Procedure Manual.”
FECA grants federal employees benefits in cases of work-related illness and injury -- including payment of medical expenses, compensation for wage loss and providing funds to dependents, in the event an employee dies from the work-related cause.
During the earlier phase of the pandemic, OWCP operated under different, more stringent procedures that were leaving many feds who had been exposed to COVID-19 on the job without a guarantee of coverage if they got sick.
Union leaders at AFGE and other employee organizations have pressed for legislation that would codify the expanded coverage into law.