Many employees lost their jobs due to the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout. Many others became “remote” employees overnight. However, there is a large subset of individuals who are still continuing to work at physical locations. Initially, this was limited to “essential” workers, however, at present a large percentage of the labor pool is working at a
physical job site on a daily basis. This creates a lot of concerns for employers in the State of Florida, but also, places enormous pressure on the entire work force. Concerns over health and economics and attempting to balance these two essential tenets, can be a high-stress, anxiety-provoking matter.
Florida issued emergency legislation on federal, state and local levels to increase paid and unpaid sick leave and unemployment insurance benefits for COVID-19-related absences. The true gray area that exists is with regards to employees who contract COVID-19 while working – especially now that the work “place” is a fluid term.
There is always a risk of getting sick or injured at work, which is why Florida has a Workers Compensation system to begin with. In short, Workers’ Compensation exists to provide medical care (at no cost to the employee) for the injury they sustained on the job, as well as cover a percentage of wages for individuals who are unable to work. However, the key term in coverage for Workers’ Compensation disputes revolves around the term “arising out of employment.” When an injured worker trips and falls on the job, this can be clearly determined to be “arising out of” their employment as long as it happens during the “course and scope” of employment. It is less clear, however, when trying to prove that a novel virus that is fast-spreading and surging in Florida, was contracted on the job when it may have been contracted just about anywhere.
The law in Florida is not “built” to deal with Coronavirus. Understandably, a pandemic is not something that our lawmakers were considering when creating the statutes. However, while this situation may not have been predictable, we are still tasked with attempting to resolve it.
As of the most recent compilation of Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer dated May 31, 2020, there have been 3,807 COVID-19 claims filed with the state. Of these, Dade County accounts for 1,584 claims with Broward and Palm Beach following with 436 and 402 cases respectively. These three counties account for the most COVID-19 cases in the entire State of Florida. Importantly, these statistics were only last compiled on May 31, 2020. Based on the continued surge in Coronavirus cases in our state, as of the date of this article, the numbers have likely increased significantly as Southeast Florida continues to lead in the pandemic community spread.
There is a broad spectrum of individuals filing Workers’ Compensation claims for contracting Coronavirus on the job, however based on the CFO’s report the overwhelming majority of claims are coming from the health care industry. This is followed closely by “protective services” employees or First Responders and the airline and service industry also represent a large percentage.
Interestingly from the statistics provided, COVID-19, when contracted in the workforce, seems to be indiscriminate, affecting males and females of all racial and economic groups equally. The most affected age group in the work force ranges from ages 30 to 50.
As of the May 31, 2020 publication, only four sick employees had retained attorneys and gone into litigation. This is despite the fact that of the 3,807 COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation claims, over 45% have been denied by insurance carriers. In fact, of the four cases that were in litigation, three remained denied and only one claim in the entire state as of May 31, 2020 was accepted as a compensable claim.