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5 issues affecting the workers’ comp legal landscape this year

On Behalf of | Oct 18, 2022 | Workers' Compensation

For the tenth year in a row, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has issued a report about recent bills, laws and regulations that could impact the workers’ compensation system.

It’s a national report, and these issues are cropping up across the nation. In many cases, these are “model bills” that are brought before more than one state’s legislature. Soon, we may see some of these proposals come up in Illinois.

Here are five of the top issues that arose in 2022:

Should workers’ comp cover COVID-19 when workers get sick?

The pandemic may be waning, but people are still getting sick. Plus, some people are suffering from long COVID, where symptoms continue for months or years.

The issue is that it’s hard to know exactly where you got COVID-19. That said, the workplace is often a good guess as to where it came from. When an employee believes they got COVID from work, should they be entitled to workers’ compensation as they would for other occupational illnesses?

This past year, a lot of states were focused on this question, and 118 bills came up before state legislatures. Most of the bills set a presumption that COVID-19 is (or is not) work-related.

In Illinois, there is a rebuttable presumption that COVID is work-related. This means that the law assumes the worker got COVID-19 at work, but the employer can push back that assumption by proving the worker did not get it at work. So, you can claim workers’ comp for a COVID-19 illness you’re pretty sure came from a workplace exposure.

Should workers’ comp cover COVID-19 vaccine injuries?

Some states issued proposals that workers’ comp should cover people who get injured by a COVID-19 vaccine that their employer required.

Additionally, a few states issued proposals that would allow workers to sue their employers if their employers required them to get a COVID-19 vaccine and they were injured.

However, none of those proposals became law.

Should workers’ comp cover post-traumatic stress disorder?

Workers’ comp coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was a hot topic this last year, according to Risk & Insurance magazine. There are plenty of instances of people getting work-related PTSD, especially among law enforcement, first responders, fire fighters, emergency medical personnel and corrections officers. However, workers’ comp hasn’t always been easy to get for these people.

Of 46 bills related to workers’ comp and PTSD, at least one proactively extends workers’ comp coverage to certain workers under specific circumstances. That one, involving correctional officers, passed into law in Florida. Other states are studying the issue.

Will insurers need to reimburse workers for medical cannabis?

Now that cannabis is becoming legal for medical (and recreational) purposes in many states, more research is being done on its beneficial properties. Studies have found marijuana to be helpful for a number of conditions ranging from chronic pain to PTSD.

When doctors recommend medical cannabis, should workers’ comp reimburse patients for that treatment as it would for other doctor-recommended treatments?

In most states that considered the issue, the answer was no. Because cannabis is still illegal under federal law, most legislatures hesitate to require insurers to pay for it.

Should workers’ comp cover ‘gig economy’ workers?

There is currently a big struggle being fought about whether gig economy workers should be considered employees or independent contractors. Does someone who drives for Grubhub actually work for Grubhub? Or are these drivers their own bosses?

This matters for many reasons, but one of them is workers’ comp. If you’re not an employee, the company you work for does not have to provide workers’ comp insurance for you. Independent contractors are generally not covered by workers’ comp unless they buy coverage on their own.

States around the country are struggling to decide whether gig economy companies must classify their workers as employees. In the meantime, the companies themselves say the workers are independent contractors.

If you are an employee, you are generally eligible for workers’ comp whenever your injury or illness is work-related.