With school returning this fall despite Covid-19 numbers spiking in Florida we have been hearing from faculty and staff with concerns about their options and coverage through workers’ compensation should they get sick in the classroom. Unfortunately, the Florida legislature and insurance industry has written the law to virtually guarantee that contracting coronavirus at work will not be covered through your workers’ compensation insurance policy. Teachers, staff, and administrators (as well as grocery clerks and wait staff) will likely be left on their own should they contract the virus.
The problem for teachers, and all employees in Florida, is the statute requires clear and convincing evidence of exposure to Covid-19 at work, with epidemiological studies showing the specific level to which you were exposed was sufficient to cause the infection. You must also show your exposure at work was greater than that to which the general public was exposed. All this must be done with expert testimony. You literally must identify what surface you touched and how much coronavirus was on that surface and whether that is more coronavirus than is on most surfaces in the general public…say a bench at the mall. Or identify which student or coworker transmitted the virus to you by clear and convincing evidence, as opposed to one of the hundreds of other people you interacted with over the past 14 day incubation period. It is, by design, a near impossible burden to meet for employees.
Even if you meet the Herculean task of proving you contracted Covid at work you can prepare for seemingly never ending supplemental defenses. If masks or hand sanitizers or other cleaning stations were made available and you failed to utilize those safety precautions your employer may invoke their right to reduce all benefits payable by 25%. And if you succumb to Covid but have no immediate family who are dependents, your employer will not be liable for death benefits regardless of where you contracted the disease. These are in addition to the standard apportionment arguments the employer will raise regarding any pre-existing conditions you have like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, et cetera in an attempt to lower or completely terminate benefits even after you have managed to prove you got Covid at work.
Though the odds are long, you should still consult with a skilled workers compensation attorney should you or a loved one become infected with the corona virus at work. Exceptions such as Directive 2020-05 allowing for coverage for certain State employees could be expanded. This is a new and developing disease and Michles & Booth is here to help you obtain every benefit to which you are eligible and entitled.