While many states are rolling out “shelter-in-place” orders during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, other states are slow on the uptake.
This can leave workers wondering if they should stay home or go into work and risk getting sick from coworkers or customers.
This begs the question: What happens if you do get coronavirus at work? Is your employer liable for your illness? In short—maybe.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a virus which originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019 and can cause shortness of breath, coughing, chills, and fever.
These symptoms can range from mild to very severe and can cause death in many people, especially those over 60 years old.
Coronavirus is also extremely contagious, which is why it’s valid to be worried you could catch it at work.
What Can Businesses Do to Protect Their Workers?
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) general duty clause, employers must “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
This clause, applied to COVID-19, means that employers must take steps to protect their workplace and workers.
Some examples of ways that business can protect their workers include shelter in place for non-essential businesses (if states require this), social distancing requirements for staff and customers, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting measures for the building, restricted building access to limit potential points of infection from customer to employee, or paid sick leave and emergency leave.
Lastly, if a business is closed due to shelter in place orders or closure of non-essential businesses, employers may lay off employees.
COVID-19 in Healthcare Workplace Settings
For those who work in healthcare, the guidelines are slightly different in terms of protection.
In these workplaces, employees expect to and are trained in encountering blood, blood-borne pathogens, vomit, feces, and other bodily fluids.
Healthcare workers wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to work to prevent exposure to COVID-19. They are also considered essential business, and as such workers would be required to come to work even during a shelter-in-place order.
However, there are some questions regarding worldwide shortage of PPE and workers’ safety on the job which will likely bring lawsuits in the future.
What Happens If You Get Coronavirus at Work?
If you believe that you have contracted coronavirus, or COVID-19, at your workplace, you may be entitled to compensation. However, it might be difficult to prove that you specifically contracted COVID-19 at your workplace.
Because we are in the middle of a pandemic, this could be a very difficult task if you go anywhere but work.
However, for example, say you are an essential worker who only goes to work and then goes home to their apartment each day without any other contact, this could be a situation where you can prove you contracted COVID-19 at work.
What if you believe there are unsafe practices at your job that could lead you to contracting COVID-19?
If you work at an essential business that is still open during shelter-in-place, or you are in a state where shelter-in-place has not been invoked, you may have concerns about your business’ workplace safety.
If you feel that your business is not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and has not taken measures to protect employees, OSHA may protect you if you feel you are in “imminent danger.”
As defined by OSHA, “imminent danger” includes “any conditions or practices in any place of employment which are such that a danger exists which can reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such danger can be eliminated through the enforcement procedures otherwise provided by this Act.”
One example of “imminent danger” by an employer could be requiring an employee to travel to an epicenter of coronavirus or to work with patients in a healthcare setting without personal protective equipment.
Do you have additional questions about coronavirus and the workplace?
If you believe you have contracted coronavirus due to an unsafe workplace, call VanDerGinst Law.
We have over 30 years of experience in personal injury law.
Our knowledgeable team of attorneys will help guide you through this scary time, and get you back on your feet.
The information contained on this website is presented by VanDerGinst Law P.C. It is not intended nor should it be construed as professional legal advice. The information is general in nature about the Firm, the scope of services we offer, and our community outreach, it is not legal advice. Please contact us by phone, email, mail, or via this website for inquiries. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please contact a personal injury attorney for a consultation regarding your situation. This website is not intended to solicit clients outside the State of Iowa and/or the State of Illinois.