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Exposed to COVID at work? File a WC claim

By SHERRY HALBROOK

July 13, 2021 — If you were exposed to COVID-19 at work, file a workers’ compensation claim, even if you think the deadline for filing such a claim has passed.  Get busy, collect your documentation and file your claim now.

That was the advice two top workers’ comp attorneys gave members at a special health and safety Zoom training that PEF provided June 16.  The attorneys were Robert Grey, Esq. of Grey & Grey LLP and Alex Dell, Esq. of the Law Firm of Alex Dell, PLLC.  The training was led by PEF Director of Health and Safety Geraldine Stella. PEF Director of Field Services Katherine Vorwald also helped answer questions submitted by members.

Even if your COVID-19 infection was asymptomatic, “You should file a claim to protect you if you experience any illness or injury in the future,” Dell told members on the call.

The attorneys said doctors and researchers are still learning about the potential long-term effects of COVID-19, and some patients who initially seemed asymptomatic may later experience serious ailments that appear to be related to their earlier infection.

Dell explained that workers’ compensation provides two kinds of benefits:  medical and monetary, and the financial benefit may be temporary or permanent.

The attorneys said that while the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) is usually firm about enforcing filing deadlines, the pandemic has caused the board be more flexible, but that is likely to be only temporary; so workers who have or who had COVID that they caught on the job should waste no time filing their claim.

“Pockets of skepticism may grow” as the pandemic fades, Dell said.

Grey said you have two years to file your claim, and he added, “I’m pessimistic we’ll be able to file claims late. Please file, even if late, to get long-term protection.”

“A lot of our members have had their WC claims denied,” Stella said.

“The state Insurance Fund is entitled to deny it,” Grey said.  “We go to the WCB and it decides.  We have had no adverse decisions (on COVID claims), and statewide (negative decisions) are fewer than .01 percent.”

Both Dell and Grey encouraged workers to hire a lawyer to represent them and help them file a claim and present their case to the WCB.

You need to prove to the WCB that you are a worker who had exposure to COVID on the job or that it was present in your work environment, and that you contracted COVID-19, Grey said.  “The higher the infection rates in your area, the more likely you contracted it at work.”

If you received care from your personal medical provider and it was billed to your health insurance, that can complicate your claim, but it does not preclude a successful claim.

“The facts are really important,” Dell said, “and we may not want you to put every fact out there (in your filing).”

“You do not pay a (WC) attorney directly,” Dell said.  Your attorney will be paid from any monetary award in an amount approved by the WC judge.

“People are receiving decisions in the mail and need a lawyer to explain to them what it means,” Dell said.  “You may also be entitled to disability retirement and Social Security.”

Stella said PEF “does not normally recommend attorneys to members, but COVID changed that.  The attorney will tell you if you do not need them.  And the attorneys we recommend know about your contract and state-worker rules.”

Vorwald reminded members that PEF Field Services are their first line of defense and they should notify their field representative as soon as they are told not to report to work, so the rep can help them file a timely grievance.

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