With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact our nation and the world, many people wonder about the effect it will have on work. What happens when people contract the virus while at work? Will workers’ compensation cover it?
For a while now, we have been discussing Minnesota’s proactive response to COVID in the area of workers’ compensation law. For people working in one of the covered occupations, Minnesota created a legal presumption that COVID was contracted at work. In most other cases, workers would have to show that any work-related injury or illness was contracted at work. Now, under Minnesota’s new workers’ compensation laws, it is presumed that COVID was contracted at work, if you are working in one of the covered positions.
Can employers do anything to stop this presumption?
Since the law now presumes that you obtained COVID at work, and you don’t have to prove it (assuming you’re working in one of the covered occupations), is there anything the employer can do to stop you from obtaining these benefits?
The short answer is yes. But there are some important nuances involved.
Yes. The law creates a presumption called a rebuttable presumption, which means that the presumption is not the final word. The employer can, at least in theory, rebut the presumption to prevent you from obtaining workers’ compensation benefits.
However, in practice, the presumption would be extremely difficult to rebut. According to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry:
The employer may only rebut the presumption by proving the employee’s employment was not a direct cause of the disease. The employer has the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence, that while performing his or her job duties, the employee was not exposed to COVID-19 or the exposure to COVID-19 could not have been a cause of the employee’s illness.
Obviously, it would be difficult to show that an employee was not exposed to the virus at work, or that the exposure was not the cause of the illness.
It is difficult to image an employer ever successfully rebutting this presumption in an actual case. Perhaps, if an employee was working from home when the supposed exposure took place or some other unusual situation, the presumption could be rebutted. But in most normal situations, employees covered by the new law should be able to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for COVID at work.