While praise has been widely accorded those on the front lines of the struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic — particularly health care workers and first responders — there’s been a nagging question among their ranks: What happens if one of them contracts the virus? Would they receive workers’ compensation for time missed during their illness?
The House sought to ease their minds on Tuesday by overwhelmingly passing HF4537.
Sponsored by Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud), it specifically addresses workers’ compensation claims for employees who contract COVID-19 during their duties as health care workers — including home health care workers — paramedics, emergency medical technicians, police officers and firefighters.
The changes would also pertain to corrections facility officers and counselors, as well as child care workers providing care for the children of health care workers and first responders.
Such workers would be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits without having to provide proof that they contracted COVID-19 from a particular patient on a particular day. But, to receive compensation, the employee’s condition would have to be confirmed by a positive laboratory test or the diagnosis of a physician, physician’s assistant or nurse, based upon the employee’s symptoms.
Passed 130-4 by the House — with most members doing so remotely — and 67-0 by the Senate, it next goes to Gov. Tim Walz, who said during an afternoon briefing he could sign it as soon as Tuesday evening. Sen. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville) is the Senate sponsor.
The bill is the result of negotiations between the representatives of labor and business groups who make up the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) said of the bill: “It’s making sure that the health care risks they’re taking on are not also financial risks.”
The Commerce and Labor and Industry departments project the bill’s cost to range from $320 million in a best-case scenario to $580 million at worst. But House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) emphasized in a press briefing earlier in the day that some of that money may come from a federal aid package that’s estimated to bring about $1.87 billion to the state.
As to whether such workers’ compensation claims are currently being filed, Winkler said, “Indications are that the numbers are quite low.”
The proposed legislation would not be retroactive, instead only covering cases diagnosed on or after the day following enactment. It would sunset on May 1, 2021.
The bill would also extend the target date for implementation of a new workers’ compensation data management system.
Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover), voted for the bill after raising questions about the rules of evidence should a claim be contested in court, as well as the costs to the state that may be incurred as a result of the legislation.
“It’s a concern to me what all of this is going to cost at the end of the day,” she said.