Should workers’ compensation cover police and firefighters that contract the coronavirus? Pennsylvania first responders think that it should…And are trying to do something about it. The Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has drafted legislation—which has yet to find a sponsor in the Pennsylvania legislature—that would include coronavirus in a list of “specific occupational illnesses covered under the Workers’ Compensation Act for first responders.”
Without such presumptive legislation, proving a first responder contracted the coronavirus in the course of his or her employment, and thus eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, could prove very difficult. It is extremely challenging to pinpoint the exact time and date that a first responder was exposed and potentially contracted the virus. Supporters of the proposed legislation argue that documenting every possible exposure during the course of a police officer or firefighters’ day proves virtually impossible. By including coronavirus as a presumptive illness within the state’s workers’ compensation laws, first responders will receive the support they need for combating this pandemic.
Meanwhile, municipalities are struggling to provide funding necessary to pay overtime to replacement workers and still provide wages and benefits to the ill and/or quarantined workers. Some local political officials also believe including coronavirus under workers’ compensation laws “would “encourage” workers sickened on the job to stay home longer to boost benefits.” Adding to the complexity, very often workers’ compensation benefits are administered through third party insurers. Typically, the goal of such carriers is to minimize pay-outs and maximize cost-savings in the interest of maintaining low premiums for clients (i.e. the municipalities). Very often municipal leaders have little to no say on individual workers’ compensation claims.
In closing, the federal government recently passed the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” (ACT) which provides among other things, up to 80 hours of paid leave for most employees that need to take time off for either quarantine and/or sickness as a result of the coronavirus. Undoubtedly, one of the main goals of this landmark legislation is to alleviate the financial burden placed upon employers and employees following an exposure and/or sickness from the coronavirus. However, many folks may well be surprised to learn that first responders may not be eligible for these new federally required benefits. There are two provisions contained within the ACT that specifically allow “health care providers and first responders” to be exempted from this coverage.
We should not be surprised to see PA first responders stand-up for what they believe is only fair. In fact, I would imagine many more will be following their lead.
For more on the story from the Philadelphia Inquirer, click here.
Also, click here for a link to the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”