South Carolina’s first responders are on the frontlines battling the coronavirus (COVID-19) every day. Now, a state representative is pushing for legislation that would provide them with workers’ compensation benefits if they test positive for the illness.
Workers’ compensation pays for medical care and provides partial-wage reimbursement for employees who become injured or ill while performing duties within the scope of their employment. Typically, benefits can only be paid if a worker can prove that the illness is work-related.
Under the new bill, backed by Rep. Russell Fry, South Carolina’s first responders who test positive for the coronavirus would be entitled to the presumption that their COVID-19 diagnosis is job-related. As such, they would be entitled to total-temporary-disability benefits from the time of their isolation until they are cleared by a physician to return to work.
First responders include:
- Law enforcement officers
- Emergency medical technicians (EMTs)
- Volunteer law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics
- Healthcare providers
- Members of the National Guard or South Carolina State Guard called to active duty in response to the pandemic
- Correctional officers
Workers’ Comp is Essential for These Essential Workers
At Stewart Law Offices, our team of workers’ compensation attorneys applauds this effort to support frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this unprecedented time where people are dying in exponential numbers, first responders who have dedicated their careers to service during a national emergency deserve to know that their personal finances will not be wiped out if they fall ill while they try stop the disease from spreading to others.
The key challenge in any workers’ compensation case is proving that an occupational illness is directly tied to the workplace. What makes this legislation so important is that it asks for “the presumption” that first responders who test positive for COVID-19 were exposed and became ill directly as a result of their work. In other words, we know that first responders have a higher likelihood of being exposed to the coronavirus due to the nature of their jobs. Under this rule, we’re going to assume that their COVID-19 diagnosis is the result of a work-related exposure even though officials can no longer definitively track down the source of exposure the way they could in the early days of the outbreak.
What S.C. Workers’ Compensation Covers
Most South Carolina employees are entitled to workers’ comp benefits. In addition to payment of medical expenses, workers’ compensation benefits also pay a portion of an employee’s lost wages while they are unable to work. Workers’ compensation also extends death benefits to family members who have lost a loved one due to a work injury or illness.
Applying for workers’ comp can be complicated under normal circumstances. With COVID-19, we have entered the realm of extraordinary circumstances. Workers’ compensation laws were not written with pandemics of this magnitude in mind, so employers and workers may find themselves in a gray area when it comes to what gets covered and what doesn’t.
How Stewart Law Offices Can Help
During these uncertain times, you need experienced and proven South Carolina workers’ compensation attorneys by your side. The legal team at Stewart Law Offices has represented clients in complex work injury and occupational illness claims for decades. If you are an essential worker who became infected with coronavirus, our attorneys can help with every aspect of your COVID-19 claim.