COVID-19 has caused a surge in workers’ compensation claims over the last few months. Federal employees have been especially susceptible as many federal jobs require contact with the public, such as law enforcement, first responders, and front-line medical and public health personnel; about 4,000 federal employees have filed workers’ compensation claims already. Expecting this increase, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs has developed new procedures for handling COVID-related claims as well as a task force dedicated to the Department of Federal Employee Compensation to oversee expected future claims.
New Procedures for COVID-Related Claims
All federal employees filing for workers’ compensation as a result of COVID-19 need to file Form CA-1, Notice of Traumatic Injury through their employer using the Employees’ Compensation Operations & Management Portal. Additionally, adjudicators will now take into account the type of employment held by the employee, rather than the employee responsible for identifying the exact day or time they contracted the virus.
- If a COVID-19 related claim is filed by someone in high-risk employment, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) will accept that the exposure was directly caused by the nature of employment. High-risk employment includes those who are required to have in-person and close proximity interactions with the public on a frequent basis, such as law enforcement, first responders, and front-line medical and public health personnel.
- If a COVID-19 related claim is filed by someone who is not in high-risk employment, OWCP will require the employee to provide evidence regarding exposure on the job. The employing agency will also have to provide information supporting or refuting the claim.
Workers’ compensation is evolving to account for the current landscape. Police officers, first responders, and medical personnel all come into contact with the public frequently and in person. Due to the nature of their jobs, it would be almost impossible to provide sufficient evidence about their exposure and receive compensation in the OWCP’s previous system.
COVID-19 Task Force
The Federal Employees Program under OWCP has also created a task force designated specifically to support claims examiners and assist with all COVID 19 related claims for federal employees. The task force will offer assistance to claims staff, employing agencies, and the general public in advising on evidence needed for a claim as well as answering any questions from claimants.
For COVID-19 related claims for federal employees, the task force outlines key pieces of evidence needed:
Exposure- Federal employees in high-risk jobs do not need to provide exact evidence regarding exposure to the Coronavirus. In such cases, there is an implicit recognition of a higher likelihood of infection. Once OWCP confirms the nature of a claimant’s employment, based on position title and conversations with the employer, they will consider the claimant in a high-risk job and require no further evidence. In cases of employment that is not considered high risk, evidence showing the duration and length of exposure is needed. This can include a description of job duties, what agency the claimant is employed with, and location of work.
Medical- In either case, high risk or not, medical evidence is required to have a claim accepted. A positive diagnosis of COVID-19 also needs to be available. A causal relationship between diagnoses and employment must be made as well, typically by a physician’s opinion based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty.
COVID-19 has affected countless Americans who have needed to take off work to recover. Federal employees are among those most affected with 4,000 claims already filed and an expected 2,000 more in coming weeks. The changes to workers’ compensation policies are needed to ensure more federal employees receive the compensation they deserve all while supporting the already-strained resources of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. It would not be a surprise to see more changes coming soon.