Did You Get Sick with Coronavirus While at Work? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Did You Get Sick with Coronavirus While at Work? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Chris Wojcik

States across the country have - or will soon be - reopening some businesses.

The New York Times notes that as the number of people returning to their workplaces increases, there’s been a rise in the number of known Coronavirus cases. 

Some say that cases are only increasing because more tests are being conducted.

But others worry that positive results are climbing because people are starting to come into closer contact with others.

If you are going back to work, or have gone back, you may be wondering what will happen if you test positive for the Coronavirus. Here’s some helpful advice. 

If I test positive for the Coronavirus after returning to work, can I get workers’ compensation?

It depends on where you live. 

Each state has “Occupational Disease” laws which give employees the right to workers’ compensation benefits if they contract a work-related illness.


To get workers compensation, the employee must prove that the disease or illness:

  • occurred because of one’s job 
  • was caused by conditions particular to the job and not common to the public at large.

This chart from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration shows which employees are at the highest risk of contracting Coronavirus. 

If your job is considered high risk, your claim for workers’ compensation may be stronger than those with low risk occupations. 

So what are states saying? 

Not every state has issued formal legislation related to worker compensation claims and the Coronavirus.

But a few states have, and they seem to be siding with employees. 


In California, for example, new legislation implies that if an employee tests positive for Covid-19 within 14 days of returning to work, there is reason to presume that the employee contracted the virus at work. The employee, therefore, is entitled to worker's compensation. 


Employers can challenge this by providing evidence that the worker contracted the Coronavirus somewhere else, but this would be almost impossible to do. 


Other states either haven’t said anything yet or are saying that only front-line workers are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. 


For example, New Jersey’s rules imply that all health care workers can get workers’ compensation benefits. 


In Texas and Georgia, two states that have been more aggressive in their reopening, workers’ compensation claims can be denied if the illness is an “ordinary disease of life,” or something that the general public and employee are equally suspectible to.  


For example, the common cold and influenza fall into the “ordinary disease of life” category. But if you worked at a nuclear power plant and experienced radiation-related illness, that would be an occupational illness because the general public is not exposed to large amounts of radiation. 


It’s unclear how courts will classify Covid-19. Is it an ordinary disease that the entire population has an equal chance of getting? Or do some jobs put certain workers at a higher risk? 


Another question that will likely factor into court decisions is this: Will claims be approved for employees whose employers did not take extreme safety precautions, like providing and requiring N95 masks and gloves, but denied for employees whose bosses’ did provide such safety gear? 


We don’t know yet. 


Regardless, your first step, if you suspect you have contracted the Coronavirus, is to be tested by a doctor. 


I was approved for workers’ compensation. What does that mean?  


Benefits will differ by state. However, there are similarities throughout the country.


You will still collect most of your salary and are entitled to most benefits you were already receiving. 


In Texas, workers’ compensation benefits include medical benefits, income benefits, death benefits (for the family of the diseased), and burial benefits. Temporary Income Benefits (TIBs) and Impairment Income Benefits (IIBs) are going to be 70% of your wage before the injury/illness. 


Depending on the severity of the illness, you may be entitled to Supplemental Income Benefits (SIBs), or if the injury is very severe, Lifetime Income Benefits (LIBs).

I can’t prove I got Coronavirus at work. But I have it. I think I’m supposed to stay home and quarantine but my employer says I can’t take that much paid time off. Can I collect unemployment?

If your employer threatens this, explain why you are missing work and provide proof that you have tested positive for Covid-19. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, workers have the right to refuse unsafe work, and forcing someone to come to work with a potentially life-threatening virus is unsafe for both the employee and coworkers. 

If you are furloughed, laid off, or unemployed by no fault of your own, you are able to collect unemployment after you apply.

Should I just go back to work once I’m feeling better, even if that’s sooner than 14 days? 

In order to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, you need to follow the CDC Return to Work Criteria


The CDC recently updated and relaxed their guidelines.


They now say that people can return to work before the once-touted 14 day quarantine period ends. 


According to these new rules, those tested positive for the Coronavirus but are symptom-free for seven days may return to work. 


However, returning workers must:

  • Self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
  • Wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days 
  • Maintain a six-foot distance from others 

If you need an attorney to help you talk through any Coronavirus-employment issues, reach out to us


This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

Chris Wojcik

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