By: Mark Barnes, Esq.
Ohio House Bill 573 seeks to amend the workers’ compensation statute to make COVID-19 a scheduled disease under R.C. 4123.68. The amendment reads as follows:
“(CC) COVID-19 contracted by an employee who was required to work outside of the employee’s home: COVID-19 contracted by an employee who was required to work by the employee’s employer outside of the employee’s home during the emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D, issued March 9, 2020, constitutes a presumption, which may be refuted by affirmative evidence, that COVID-19 was contracted in the course of and arising out of the employee’s employment outside of the employee’s home. This division applies only to claims arising during the period of the emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D, issued on March 9, 2020, and to claims arising during the fourteen-day period after that emergency ends.”
Presently, the bill has not made it to committee and the legislative process can be fairly lengthy. As written, the bill covers COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. As such, it would appear that right now, the statute, if amended, would not include workers infected with the virus and not the disease: COVID-19. This is a subtle distinction, but according to the World Health Organization, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and COVID-19 are not synonymous, such as HIV and AIDS. However, the media and governmental authorities alike refer to the virus and disease as the same thing. The distinction between the virus and the disease may be clarified as the bill proceeds through the legislative process.
Employers faced with new claims for the novel coronavirus and/or COVID-19 should deny such claims on the ground of causation. The virus and disease are so contagious, it would be very difficult to establish causation, which generally must be rendered by medical probability. However, if this bill becomes law, employers will need to defend any such claims with strong medical evidence from an infectious disease specialist, as the law makes COVID-19 presumptively compensable. We will continue to keep you apprised of any developments with this proposed bill.