Meatpacking plants have been the sites of COVID-19 outbreaks across the country. Here in Minnesota, the JBS plant in Worthington had nearly half of its 2,000 employees test positive last spring. A different JBS plant in Greeley, Colorado, was the site of an outbreak that led to several fatalities.
Now the Star-Tribune reports that JBS, which is the world’s largest meatpacker, has denied the worker’s compensation benefits applications made by the families of three employees who died. Even though employees work in close proximity along the production lines, the company claimed there was no proof that the employees contracted the virus at work. Unlike Minnesota, Colorado has no law protecting essential employees.
Zero accepted in MN
While Minnesota does have a presumption of coverage, more than 930 workers’ compensation applications were submitted in Minnesota by mid-September. None have been accepted so far, with 717 rejected and 213 under review. While the employers are not listed, some believe that more than 100 applications involved workers at the JBS plant in Worthington.
Not just a problem for meatpackers
More and more workers have returned to the workplace, despite the skyrocketing numbers of positive tests in the fall of 2020. This will likely lead to other cases, but infected workers’ unique circumstances can mean no benefits to cover medical expenses and lost wages for those who contract the virus.
Workers will need to challenge
While workers’ compensation benefits are generally easier to get, the industry seems to be reeling from significant numbers of employees contracting the virus. JBS claims that its rejections are consistent with the law, but compensation historically involved injuries on the job rather than contracting a deadly virus.
As with other types of workers’ compensation cases, workers who contract the coronavirus (or their families) can appeal the initial rejection. Often, they find it best to work with a workers’ compensation lawyer who represents applicants and their families. They understand the appeals process and can often help applicants get the benefits they deserve and need.