During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of New York workers were designated as “essential workers,” reporting to work in person even as “non-essential” worker and the general public were told to stay home. The “essential” designation included those who work in health care, food and retail, hospitality, transportation, education, construction, manufacturing, utilities, and many public sector workers.
Although tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of essential workers fell ill with the virus, few have filed for workers’ compensation benefits. That is a mistake, because workers’ comp offers broad coverage to essential workers who contracted COVID. If the worker was employed in a “public facing” job or in an environment where COVID was “prevalent” during the pandemic, the law is likely to provide workers’ compensation coverage for the illness.
There are many good reasons to file for workers’ compensation. Not only does the law provide benefits for wage loss and medical treatment, it provides those benefits on a long-term basis. A worker with an established claim can reopen their case for eighteen years from the date of the accident for lost wages, and for life if medical treatment is needed. This is especially important in the case of COVID-19, where the long-term effects of the virus are still unclear.
It is important for workers who were exposed to the virus at work and who became sick to file a claim now, because legal time limitations may prevent claims from being filed later on.