The year of 2020 has brought many changes in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the many events that have affected both policy and daily lives. COVID-19 or “Corona-virus” is a respiratory disease that is infecting people all around the world. The only precautions that can be taken to assist in preventing the spread are staying at home, social distancing, wearing a face mask, and washing hands. COVID-19 has changed the way people live; businesses are having employees work from home and some are shutting down due to the inability to stay open during these times. Specifically, within the State of South Carolina, Workers’ Compensation is being affected by COVID-19 but it can potentially be a complicated situation for the Workers’ Compensation Commission, insurance agencies, lawyers, and claimants to handle.
The Workers’ Compensation Act in South Carolina offers benefits to most employees who either 1) have an on-the-job work injury or 2) an on-the-job work exposure. Benefits that injured or infected workers are entitled to include medical treatment and two-thirds of their average weekly wage (temporary total disability, or TTD). Currently, the South Carolina House of Representatives is considering a piece of legislation, H 5482, that has been proposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic relating to Workers’ Compensation. If passed, H 5482 creates “a rebuttable presumptions of compensability for first responders, health care providers, and correctional officers who contract COVID-19.” With this piece of legislation, there will be four categories of entitlement to temporary total benefits as long as isolation is required: people directed to isolate by his/he employer due to confirmed/suspected COVID-19 exposure, people who receive a COVID-19 diagnosis from a physician, people with a presumptive positive COVID-19 test, and people with a lab confirmed COVID-19 test.
The upcoming months within workers’ compensation is cloudy. Besides providing benefits from COVID-19 exposure and/or diagnosis, there are other elements that could be changing as a result of this pandemic. The workplace environment that is covered by workers’ compensation will be debated on due to the number of employees that are now working from home; and many employers are considering keeping this way. If an employee is working from home and is injured, will that be covered by workers’ compensation if the injury would have been if they were still located in the workplace? For example, if Sarah were to trip over her computer cord while working at home and break her wrist, would she be entitled to benefits under the act? If that same situation were to take place in the office, it would or should be covered under the Act. If her house is now her workplace, if that considered the same thing?
COVID-19 will continue to make an impact on the Workers’ Compensation Act and system for years to come. There are many implications that are arising out of the pandemic and litigation is only just beginning. Claims are now beginning to be filed and even then, litigation does not begin. Some claims may not ever see a hearing; others will be drug through many hearings and in-depth debates. Workers’ compensation has a long road ahead of them but with Bill proposals already in the State’s House of Representatives, it is hopeful that the Act and Legislatures can be proactive rather than reactive once larger priorities are able to be managed.