Federal Employees News Digest

Feds contracting COVID-19 in high-risk jobs are cleared for workers’ comp

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 by the pandemic -- with outbreaks in every state and approximately 1.7 million confirmed cases -- it can be very difficult to determine how and where a person contracted the disease. Yet, each day, thousands of essential federal workers risk infection in their 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 condition.

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.

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