In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, below are some informational items in relation to the New York State workers’ compensation system for first responders.
Any claim for Workers’ Compensation, Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefit Law (VFBL), or Volunteer Ambulance Workers’ Benefit Law (VAWBL) must arise out of the course of work or a line of duty activity. For a description of Line of Duty activities under VFBL/VAWBL, please refer to the link below:
Testing for COVID-19
For those members in NYS with Health Insurance or Medicaid, testing for COVID-19 is currently free. The US Senate is currently reviewing legislation passed by the House of Representatives and supported by the President to make COVID-19 testing free for the uninsured. You should not wait for the WC system to get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or are potentially exposed.
Treatment for COVID-19
Individuals considered high risk are over 60 years old, have an underlying chronic health or respiratory issue, or have a weakened immune system. According to the Mayo Clinic, the majority of individuals infected with COVID-19 that experience symptoms are treated with over the counter pain relievers and cough suppressant in addition to increased fluid intake and rest. This virus does not respond to current antiviral medications. Hospitalization may occur for those individuals not in the high risk criteria. For any work-related or line of duty injury, the workers’ compensation system is responsible for the medically necessary treatment for affected employees and volunteer first responders.
There are first responders that do meet the high risk criteria and every organization should take additional precautions and/or restrictions for these individuals to decrease or eliminate their interaction with potentially exposed call locations and/or patients. In some areas this is not feasible, so please follow the CDC guidelines for PPE and precautions related to COVID-19 exposure.
For those mandated to quarantine or infected due to a documented line of duty incident, financial compensation may be available. For VFBL/VAWBL, the maximum weekly benefit rate for those not totally and permanently disabled is $400. Many local authorities recommend self-quarantine for first responders that may have been potentially exposed to COVID-19.
For those individuals that are asymptomatic, the recommended quarantine time per the CDC guidelines is 14 days. This maximum potential financial benefit is roughly $800 for most volunteer first responders that are quarantined up to 14 days and determined to be totally temporarily disabled. Those who test positive for COVID-19 may need to quarantine for a longer period of time. Some volunteer first responders may also be able to work virtually for their regular employer, or be able to utilize sick/vacation pay so the financial impact may be minimal for most volunteer first responders under a short period quarantine.
For paid employees such as Police, Firefighters, or EMTs, their potential benefits would fall under workers’ compensation law. For WC, there is a 7 day waiting period for compensation benefits, therefore any quarantine period under 7 days would not be eligible for financial compensation. Any potential WC financial benefit would be determined based on the employee’s wages, degree of disability, and time frame that the employee is unable to return to work.
We urge all members to not wait for a determination from the WC system on a potential claim before taking the proper measures to protect themselves and others. As indicated from the CDC and many other outlets, this virus’s major impact is on the elderly and those with current underlying health issues. For the majority of New Yorkers infected with COVID-19, they may experience mild to moderate symptoms.
All organizations should follow their local Health Department guidelines and encourage all employees and volunteers to follow the proper procedures to minimize the spread of this virus.
Our office is currently operating remotely and is available and ready to answer any questions or concerns raised by this pandemic and the potential interaction it may have with your workers’ compensation, VFBL, and VAWBL policies.
Please stay safe!