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Arkansas Revises Workers’ Compensation Rules for Coronavirus Exposure

Governor Asa Hutchinson issued an executive order to help first responders and healthcare workers who’ve been exposed to coronavirus. The order comes amid an increase in the number of new virus cases and deaths in Arkansas. If you or a loved one work in these fields and were exposed to coronavirus, you should know your rights, and speak with a workers’ comp attorney to discuss if you’re due compensation.

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What Does The Order Say?

The order makes it easier for first responders and healthcare workers to qualify for workers’ compensation. They are eligible if they can show a causal connection between their diagnosis and exposure to coronavirus through their occupation.

Previously, a virus couldn’t be used as a basis for workers’ compensation unless it was in a hospital or sanitarium. The order suspends this rule, contained in the Arkansas Code. Now, first responders and healthcare workers outside those settings may be compensated.

What Prompted The Order?

Despite social distancing measures, a previous executive order, and worldwide knowledge of coronavirus, it continues to spread. Patients continue to be hospitalized and placed on ventilators. This has put a tremendous strain on first responders and healthcare workers. They have done a heroic job confronting the pandemic, but have in turn been put at risk from coronavirus. The order is designed to prevent economic hardships these workers might otherwise suffer.

How Can First Responders And Healthcare Workers Qualify?

Under the order, first responders and healthcare workers don’t have to be exposed to coronavirus in a hospital or sanitarium. However, the worker is still required to have been exposed to the virus through their job or occupation. That means if the worker gets exposed through contact outside of work, they are ineligible for workers’ compensation coverage.

What Do Workers Need To Know About Coronavirus?

Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is a severe and highly transmittable respiratory illness. Common signs of infection include:

  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breathing difficulties

Healthcare workers wearing protective masks.

For most people, it will take about 5-6 days from the time of infection for symptoms to start showing up. But in some cases, it can take up to 14 days. Those with mild symptoms may be able to self-quarantine. Anyone with severe complications needs medical attention. In serious cases, coronavirus infection may lead to:

  • Pneumonia
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver failure
  • Death

Are Any Workers At A Higher Risk From Coronavirus?

Any first responder or healthcare worker with an underlying illness could be at an increased risk from coronavirus exposure. That includes anyone with the following conditions:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Heart conditions
  • Asthma
  • Lung disease
  • Obesity

What Workers’ Compensation Benefits Are Available?

First responders and healthcare workers exposed to coronavirus may lose time from work during self-quarantine. But self-quarantine with mild symptoms is a best-case scenario. For workers who develop more severe complications, they may be hospitalized for a significant period of time. That means not only will they incur medical costs, but they will also lose time from work.

Workers’ compensation is designed to address these issues by providing benefits to injured workers, including those hurt by coronavirus.

Those benefits may include:

Medical care.

This covers medical bills, prescription medications, hospital costs, lab test fees, and other expenses. The costs are paid directly by the employer’s workers’ compensation insurer.

Rehabilitation services.

It’s unclear what, if any, rehabilitation a worker might need after recovering from coronavirus. But to the extent you need it, workers’ compensation can cover it.

Wage loss.

While the worker is sidelined due to coronavirus, workers’ compensation provides cash payments. Benefits are generally calculated at 66-2/3% of the worker’s average weekly wages.

Death Benefits

Death benefits are also available in the event the worker passes away due to coronavirus. These benefits are paid to the worker’s surviving dependents. If your loved one passed away because of coronavirus complications, speak with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney.

How Do Workers Apply For Workers’ Compensation?

The first thing an injured first responder or healthcare worker must do is report the illness. That means letting your employer or supervisor know immediately that you have contracted coronavirus. The notice should be in writing and provide as much detail as possible. Although workers’ compensation benefits are automatic, they do not begin until the injured worker provides notice.

Your employer is required to cover reasonably necessary medical expenses. But it’s important to note that Arkansas law allows the employer to designate an initial healthcare provider. The employer and the workers’ compensation attorney may not be required to compensate you if you obtain your own treatment. All employers should provide a copy of your rights to medical care, which contains additional information.

Special Considerations For Coronavirus Cases

First responders and healthcare workers are at an increased risk of coronavirus exposure due to the nature of their work. It may seem like a given that these workers will receive workers’ compensation if they contract coronavirus. As mentioned above, however, the worker must contract coronavirus through their occupation. Simply because coronavirus exposure is more prevalent in these lines of work does not guarantee your claim will be approved.

A 3d rendering of the Covid-19 virus.

Because coronavirus is a pandemic, the general population is exposed to it. It may be difficult for first responders and healthcare workers who get sick to prove it was because of work. Even with the executive order, the worker must demonstrate a causal connection between their job and exposure to the virus. If you’ve become ill due to coronavirus, you should speak with an experienced Arkansas workers’ compensation lawyer.

Coronavirus is different from the common cold and seasonal flu, although they do share similar symptoms. This poses another potential challenge for workers. The common cold and flu are not considered peculiar to one’s occupation, since anyone can get them. It is likely that many claims will be denied where it is not clear whether the worker actually has coronavirus. You will need a positive test result to prove that your illness is from coronavirus and not something else. That’s why it’s critical to notify your employer as soon as possible and obtain medical attention as required.

How Can Jason M. Hatfield, P.A., Help Me?

Not only do we understand Arkansas’ workers’ compensation laws, we know the challenges posed by coronavirus. The executive order is welcome news to first responders and healthcare workers. But there’s no guarantee your claim will be approved. It remains to be seen how employers and insurers will apply the new coverage rules.

Despite the unique exposure of first responders and healthcare workers to coronavirus, some observers are skeptical they will be covered. It will be difficult to show that your illness was contracted as a consequence of your occupation. And it may not even be clear you have coronavirus since there are similarities to the cold and flu. Either way, our Arkansas workers’ compensation firm can help.

You may simply have a question about what your rights and obligations are under the state’s workers’ compensation laws. For example, you may want to know when you can see a healthcare provider of your choice. Or you may just want to know when your benefits will start, and how long they will last. We can answer these and any other questions you have about your workers’ compensation benefits.

Having a serious workers’ compensation attorney in your corner is critical. We will demand the compensation to which you are entitled and fight any claim denials. If you or a loved one contracted coronavirus through first responder or healthcare work, call Jason M. Hatfield, P.A.

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