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  4.  » COVID-19 and the workplace: Am I entitled to compensation?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges to workers, challenging the legal field to respond to the injuries and damages it has caused.  There are several state and federal laws that may apply and may entitle you to compensation.

I contracted COVID-19 at work

If you were exposed to and contracted the virus from workplace exposure, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, including medical care and treatment and lost wage benefits.  In general, there are two theories under Florida’s workers’ compensation law which may allow recovery.  The first is based on exposure.  At first, it sounds logical that if a worker was exposed at work and contracted the virus, that worker should get compensation benefits.  Florida law on exposure claims, however, makes the process difficult and the case hard to prove.  Typically, one has to prove actual exposure and the specific level of the exposure, making it difficult, to meet the “exposure” standard of proof.  On the other hand, CoVid-19 can also be considered a “disease,” meaning you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if you most likely contracted the disease due to workplace disclosure and that your particular occupation had a greater risk of exposure than the general public.  Statistically, those involved in protective services, the health care industry, the service industry or were otherwise deemed essential workers are at greater risk.

I was on light duty at work but was laid off due to COVID-19

We have many clients who had returned to work in a light-duty or accommodated position due to their injuries or work restrictions who were then furloughed or laid off due to the pandemic.  Instead of paying wage loss benefits, the workers’ compensation carrier claim the loss of work was not due to the injury and have refused benefits.  If, however, your injuries prevented you from returning to your past job or earn what you were able to make before the accident, you have a viable claim for workers’ compensation benefits despite the carrier’s excuse that it was for economic or CoVid reasons.

I quarantined for COVID-19 exposure and lost my job

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires qualifying employers to extend paid leave for those subject to state or local quarantines, those advised by a health care professional to self-quarantine, is experiencing symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis, or is caring for individuals in such quarantine (e.g. child or dependent family member).  In addition, this act prohibits employers from terminating one who is on a qualified leave.  You may have a claim with the Federal Labor Relations Board or directly in a private action to recoup damages for wrongful termination.  You may also be eligible for similar leave and damages under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) but must meet certain qualifications for that protection, including having worked for a year or more with an employer with 50 or more employees.

I was not allowed to return to work because my employer thought I was too great a risk

We have also spoken to workers who had COVID-19 symptoms, tested negative, but still were not allowed to return to work.  Similarly, others have tested positive, received treatment, tested negative and were cleared to return to work, but the employer was afraid to let them do so.  In those circumstances, your employer may perceive you as having a disability, disease or handicap that you do not, in fact, have.  The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and similar Florida laws may protect you in these circumstances and provide legal grounds for recover.