Essential Workers Continue to Struggle for Covid-Related Workers' Comp and Death Benefits

Dec 1, 2020

Eight months into the coronavirus outbreak in New York, frontline workers and their families continue to struggle to receive workers' compensation and death benefits for covid-related injuries incurred on the job. A Gotham Gazette analysis of claim data from the Workers' Compensation Board reveals that fewer than 2% of workplace injury claims associated with the virus have had lost wages awarded through the Board, while thousands remain in limbo.

Over 12,000 covid-related claims were filed since the pandemic began, according to information from the state's Open Data portal, which was last updated October 8, almost two months ago. In only 184 of them the Board made a determination to return wages, all of them for injuries sustained between March and May, the peak of hospitalizations and a period when, for the most part, only “essential” personnel were authorized to work in-person because of the risk of contracting the virus. Close to 5,000 more have been "voluntarily" awarded lost wages by insurance carriers, according to a spokesperson for the Board, but labor unions and workers' comp lawyers say essential employees from nurses to grocery store clerks are fighting to receive coverage after contracting COVID-19 on the job. At least 1,229 covid claims were initially denied by an employer or insurance carrier, the data shows.

The numbers demonstrate the difficulty of seeking relief and restitution through New York State's workers' compensation system, once a national exemplar of workplace protections, even in the event of a pandemic that left tens of thousands of first responders and other essential personnel ill. Since the spring peak, labor unions and elected officials have been pushing for COVID-19 to be deemed an "occupational disease" to streamline compensation claims, but experts say the change wouldn't alter many of the demanding procedures that create barriers to receiving benefits.

"Carriers and employers continue to unjustifiably deny and delay care and benefits for workers exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace and their survivors," wrote Mario Cilento, president of the New York chapter of the AFL-CIO, in an email to Gotham Gazette.

Cilento said his organization, which represents 3,000 labor unions statewide, has been working with the Workers' Compensation Board to expedite awards. But those efforts haven't been enough, he said, as "too many workers and survivors are waiting too long for the benefits they need."

Read the full article here.

Keywords
New York State Workers' Compensation NYS Workers' Comp Injury Job Loss Workers' Comp Injured COVID-19

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