Can COVID-19 Be an Occupational Illness Covered Under South Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Laws?
Under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation laws, an “occupational disease” is “a disease arising out of the course and scope of employment which is due to hazards in excess of those ordinarily incident to employment and is peculiar to the occupation in which the employee is engaged.”
Healthcare workers in South Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic are being exposed to a heightened risk of contracting the coronavirus when performing their jobs. While the rest of South Carolina is staying home and practicing social distancing to lower the chances of contracting the virus, healthcare workers are regularly coming into close contact with persons infected or potentially infected with the virus. In the course and scope of their employment, healthcare workers are thus exposed to a COVID-19 infection hazard far over other occupations.
Reports coming in from around the United States provide support for the fact that healthcare workers face a heightened risk of contracting coronavirus higher than other occupations. The CDC states that healthcare professionals “are on the front lines of caring for patients with confirmed or possible infection with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and therefore have an increased risk of exposure to this virus.” The New York Times reports that nurses, respiratory therapists, nurse practitioners, internists, general practitioners and other healthcare professionals, due to their regular, close contact with patients, face a much higher risk of contracting the coronavirus than the public. Sadly, these risks are further heightened by the shortages of personal protective equipment healthcare professionals are experiencing while combating the coronavirus pandemic. The results of this increased risk are evident from the rising number of healthcare workers in Charleston contracting COVID-19, as well as the tragic results from the other parts of the country of infected healthcare professionals in Washington and California and the deaths of healthcare workers in New Jersey and New Orleans.
Representatives of the insurance industry are always skeptical of claims that workers’ compensation covers injuries, and as expected, are skeptical of whether the coronavirus can be a work injury covered by workers’ compensation laws. However, insurance representatives acknowledge that, by “being face-to-face with sick people all day,” healthcare professionals may have a covered workers’ compensation claim when contracting COVID-19.
While likely that no one can establish exactly when an infected healthcare worker contracted COVID-19, a healthcare worker is subjected to a dramatically increased risk of contracting the coronavirus at work. Unless the healthcare worker was exposed to COVID-19 from a family member or friend they were in close contact with, the heightened exposure at work gives an infected healthcare worker a solid case for workers’ compensation benefits.