New Presumptions Created For COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Claims in Vermont

On July 13, 2020, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed S.342 (Act 150) into law. Section 2 of the Act created two new presumptions under the Vermont Workers’ Compensation Act. These presumptions allow individuals who have caught COVID-19 from their workplace to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits without any impediments. These presumptions can be retroactively applied to March 1, 2020, meaning that anyone who has gotten the coronavirus since then due to their work conditions can file a claim.

About the New Presumptions

The first of the two new Vermont workers’ compensation presumptions applies to front-line workers. The definition of a “front-line worker” and who it applies to is explained in detail in the new bill.

Workers in this category include, but are not limited to:

  • Firefighters
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Emergency medical personnel
  • Healthcare workers
  • Correctional officers
  • Long term care facility and residential care workers
  • Childcare providers for children of other front-line workers
  • Home health care workers or personal care attendants
  • Workers in a morgue, funeral establishment, or crematory
  • AND any workers “performing services that the Commissioner determines place the worker at a similarly elevated risk… as the other front-line workers listed”

A worker in one of the above front-lines of work who receives either a positive result on their COVID-19 test or a coronavirus diagnosis from a licensed health care provider is automatically presumed to have a case, and is eligible for all applicable workers’ compensation payments and services.

The only way for their employer’s insurer to deny such a claim would be to prove by a “preponderance of evidence” that the infection was due to non-work exposure. So, this law is a very powerful protection for injured front-line workers – so powerful that Vermont’s Director of Workers’ Compensation stated, in a July 27, 2020 memo, “This may be a difficult burden for the insurer to meet and may require contact tracing, employee interviews and other investigation to show non-work exposure.”

The second new presumption applies to non-front-line workers. Proving that a non-front-line worker contracted COVID-19 from work is slightly more complicated than doing so for a front-line worker, however.

To demonstrate that a non-front-line worker contracted the coronavirus at work they must show:

  • A positive test result or diagnosis from a licensed health care provider and
  • Either a documented exposure to COVID-19 while working, or
  • That they performed their job duties at a residence or facility where one or more residents or employees had COVID-19 at the time of their work or was diagnosed within 14 days of the non-front-line worker’s work performed.

An insurer can deny the claimed presumption for non-front-line workers if the insurer can show that the COVID-19 infection was due to non-work exposure or work-related risk factors, or that the employer followed the strict health guidelines outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Vermont Department of Health.

The Vermont Department of Labor has received between 115 and 120 workers’ compensation cases alleging COVID-19 work exposure or infection since March 1, 2020.

Studies are investigating the long-term effects of infection such as lung injury, injury to the heart, liver and immune system the brain stem kidneys and gastrointestinal tract.

So, exposure and infection to COVID-19 at work is very serious and it is potentially a life-long injury and disability to be covered by workers’ compensation.

If you have been diagnosed with or tested positive for COVID-19 while working in Vermont since March 1, 2020, you may have a valid workers’ compensation claim. I strongly suggest you reach out to a Vermont workers’ compensation lawyer to schedule a free consultation so that you may discuss your situation with someone experienced in Vermont’s workers’ compensation system. Working with an attorney to file your claim can be especially helpful if your employer or workers’ compensation insurer refuse to cooperate in your case.

The Law Office of Charles Powell has stood up against the largest employers and insurers in Vermont workers’ compensation cases. Guidance and representation can make a difference in filing a successful claim. Contact me to set up a free case evaluation with an experienced Vermont workers' compensation lawyer today.

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