According to the PA Department of Labor and Industry, “an illness caused by work exposures can be considered an injury or an occupational disease.” Under the PA Workers’ Compensation Act, when a person suffers an illness, it can either be categorized as a work related “injury” or an “occupational disease”.
An “injury” in PA workers’ compensation can be a one-time incident such as a motor vehicle accident, fall, or strain/tear of a body part. It could also be repetitive in nature, injuring a body part by doing the same work over and over again. Also, pre-existing conditions can be aggravated by one’s work, being categorized as an injury.
Occupational diseases, on the other hand, are usually typical with specific occupations. An example of this was asbestosis and silicosis illnesses related to the steel industry in its heyday. Workers can be exposed to certain chemicals or poisons on a daily basis with their work which can lead to illness and/or death.
So, what about COVID-19? If you contracted this at work, is it considered an injury or an occupational disease? In most cases it would probably fall under the category of “injury”, but there will be arguments that can and will be made that depending on the industry and work, it could be considered an occupational disease.
We have all heard on the news that particular industries are harder hit than others. For example, frontline health care providers who are working directly with COVID-19 patients had more exposure due to the delayed access to personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition, manufacturing and the food industry are at higher risk for the contraction of the Virus as workers are forced to work in very close proximity to others. Again, in the beginning of the pandemic, there was limited PPE and individuals might have had it before it was public knowledge as to the severity of the Virus.
Pennsylvania workers’ compensation is no different than any other service or business in that adaptations are and will have to be made into the foreseeable future. In the PA workers’ compensation practice, Petitions and Answers continue to be processed electronically and the workers’ compensation judges are conducting hearings via telephone, skype for business or some similar video system during this shut down process. Your case will proceed through the litigation process and will not simply be dismissed.
If you or anyone you know has a workers’ compensation issue, they should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney and not wait until this pandemic is over, as help is a phone call away. Robinson Law LLC is and has been working virtually and continuously throughout this crisis.