New Vermont Law to Provide Workers’ Comp to More Essential Workers During Pandemic

Essential workers in all sorts of industries – from medical clinics to grocery stores – are faced with the reality that they may encounter someone with COVID-19 whenever they go to work. Instead of simply thanking these heroic men and women for continuing to clock in during the worst pandemic in recent history, the Vermont Senate took action and recently passed a set of bills that aim to make life easier for essential workers. While there are a variety of updates made in the coronavirus bills, one of the most noticeable changes should simplify workers’ compensation filings.

S.342 of the new Vermont coronavirus bills gives “frontline workers” the ability to file for workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 while operating under the presumption that they caught the virus due to going to work. Typically, a workers’ compensation claimant has the evidence burden to prove to the insurance company that their injury or illness is work-related. The update places the burden of proof on the insurance company instead, meaning an insurer has to reasonably prove that the coronavirus infection did not happen at the workplace.

A frontline worker in this bill is a:

  • Firefighter
  • Law enforcement officer
  • Paramedic
  • Correctional offer
  • Childcare worker
  • Grocery store worker

The Vermont Department of Labor can also add any other occupations to this list of frontline workers as it sees fit. For example, public transportation workers could be added to the list.

The proposed change to the workers’ compensation law was backdated to begin on March 1st, 2020. It will expire on January 15th, 2021, unless further extended through a legislative amendment. A worker will be disqualified from workers’ compensation benefits if they are offered a COVID-19 vaccine at any point but rejects its administration.

Proving the Site of Infection is Difficult

Knowing where the coronavirus spread from one person to another is difficult for two reasons:

  • Most people who are infected by the coronavirus will experience mild symptoms that could be mistaken for allergies or the common cold.
  • People who do show more severe symptoms may have been asymptomatic yet contagious several days before.

In other words, any number of people might have the coronavirus and an essential worker might never know that they had come into contact with them. Only widespread medical testing and the careful examination of practically everyone’s schedules could pinpoint the source of the infection. Requiring that level of proof is unreasonable for those on the frontline every day.

With this in mind, insurance companies will have a difficult time disproving that a workers’ compensation claimant’s infection came from their workplace, meaning the majority of claims should be won by the claimant nearly by default. The presumption rule implemented by the new legislation makes it simpler – and more logical – to assume that infection happened while completing necessary job duties. After all, shelter-in-place orders require people to stay home and stay away from crowds for the time being, so there are very few opportunities to even encounter infected people outside of work.

(For more information about this recent legal development in Vermont, click here for a full article from VTDigger, a local online newsgroup.)

Need to File a Coronavirus Claim? I Can Help

If you are a frontline or essential worker in Vermont who has contracted the coronavirus and now need workers’ compensation benefits, please call (802) 731-0154 and connect with my law firm, the Law Office of Charles L. Powell. I, Attorney Chip Powell, represent injured workers throughout Vermont, and, despite the pandemic, I can accept cases by completing all casework remotely, such as through video teleconferencing and emails. With my legal guidance, you can confidently file your claim or challenge an unjust denial by a responding insurance company.

Essential workers in all sorts of industries – from medical clinics to grocery stores – are faced with the reality that they may encounter someone with COVID-19 whenever they go to work. Instead of simply thanking these heroic men and women for continuing to clock in during the worst pandemic in recent history, the Vermont Senate took action and recently passed a set of bills that aim to make life easier for essential workers. While there are a variety of updates made in the coronavirus bills, one of the most noticeable changes should simplify workers’ compensation filings.

S.342 of the new Vermont coronavirus bills gives “frontline workers” the ability to file for workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 while operating under the presumption that they caught the virus due to going to work. Typically, a workers’ compensation claimant has the evidence burden to prove to the insurance company that their injury or illness is work-related. The update places the burden of proof on the insurance company instead, meaning an insurer has to reasonably prove that the coronavirus infection did not happen at the workplace.

A frontline worker in this bill is a:

  • Firefighter
  • Law enforcement officer
  • Paramedic
  • Correctional offer
  • Childcare worker
  • Grocery store worker

The Vermont Department of Labor can also add any other occupations to this list of frontline workers as it sees fit. For example, public transportation workers could be added to the list.

The proposed change to the workers’ compensation law was backdated to begin on March 1st, 2020. It will expire on January 15th, 2021, unless further extended through a legislative amendment. A worker will be disqualified from workers’ compensation benefits if they are offered a COVID-19 vaccine at any point but rejects its administration.

Proving the Site of Infection is Difficult

Knowing where the coronavirus spread from one person to another is difficult for two reasons:

  • Most people who are infected by the coronavirus will experience mild symptoms that could be mistaken for allergies or the common cold.
  • People who do show more severe symptoms may have been asymptomatic yet contagious several days before.

In other words, any number of people might have the coronavirus and an essential worker might never know that they had come into contact with them. Only widespread medical testing and the careful examination of practically everyone’s schedules could pinpoint the source of the infection. Requiring that level of proof is unreasonable for those on the frontline every day.

With this in mind, insurance companies will have a difficult time disproving that a workers’ compensation claimant’s infection came from their workplace, meaning the majority of claims should be won by the claimant nearly by default. The presumption rule implemented by the new legislation makes it simpler – and more logical – to assume that infection happened while completing necessary job duties. After all, shelter-in-place orders require people to stay home and stay away from crowds for the time being, so there are very few opportunities to even encounter infected people outside of work.

(For more information about this recent legal development in Vermont, click here for a full article from VTDigger, a local online newsgroup.)

Need to File a Coronavirus Claim? I Can Help

If you are a frontline or essential worker in Vermont who has contracted the coronavirus and now need workers’ compensation benefits, please call (802) 731-0154 and connect with my law firm, the Law Office of Charles L. Powell. I, Attorney Chip Powell, represent injured workers throughout Vermont, and, despite the pandemic, I can accept cases by completing all casework remotely, such as through video teleconferencing and emails. With my legal guidance, you can confidently file your claim or challenge an unjust denial by a responding insurance company.

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