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Fruin, Lam and Reinisch: Coronavirus and Workers' Compensation

By Shawna Fruin, Vincci Lam And Steven Reinisch

Thursday, March 5, 2020 | 285 | 0 | min read

The news of coronavirus spreading around the globe is alarming, prompting all of us at Reinisch Wilson Weier to think about how to plan and prepare for the unknown.

Shawna Fruin

Shawna Fruin

As we work internally to get ahead of this issue, we are sharing some guides and ideas that may be helpful to employers and third-party administrators.

Resources for business in general

For businesses in general, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have published guides for preparing for coronavirus. The guides are available here and here.

Here at Reinisch Wilson Weier, we are actively working to implement these guides at our firm. We are also taking an inventory of which employees have remote access, who would be affected if schools are closed (for example, parents without other child care options who would be forced to stay home if schools were closed), etc., to prepare for the possibility of a significant portion of our firm working remotely.

Vincci Lam

Vincci Lam

Furthermore, in addition to government recommendations such as frequent hand washing and staying home if you have any sign of illness, we are also encouraging all employees to disinfect their own spaces in an effort to reduce the spread of any contagious agents.

Compensability of coronavirus-related workers’ compensation claims

For Washington workers’ compensation, our attorneys are working with the state Department of Labor and Industries to investigate what type of exposures, if any, could lead to a compensable workers’ compensation claim for coronavirus. The department previously published a guide for Ebola here and may take a similar position for coronavirus.

Steven Reinisch

Steven Reinisch

If you receive a workers’ compensation claim related to coronavirus, we recommend considering the Ebola guide and contacting the department for additional guidance as necessary.

For Oregon workers’ compensation, our attorneys have been in contact with the policy analyst/rules coordinator at the Oregon Workers' Compensation Department. Currently, the Oregon department has no formal plan for addressing the compensability of coronavirus-related claims. However, the policy analyst/rules coordinator is raising this issue with the interim workers' comp division administrator. We will provide updates as received.

Penalties for coronavirus-related delays

For Washington, our attorneys are working with the Department of Labor and Industries to find out how it would address possible coronavirus-related delays in replies to a worker’s requests for a claim file update (for example, if an employer was unable to provide a full claim file update within the time frames of WAC 296-15-420 because its employees were quarantined, staying home due to school closures, etc.).

The department is looking into this issue, and we will update this blog once we have an answer. Our request is that the department consider the timeliness of claim file update replies under a “reasonableness” standard.

For Oregon, our attorneys contacted the Workers' Compensation Department, which advised that it is considering if and how response time frames might change if there is a reduction in the workforce as a result of medical precautions. We will keep you updated as to any industry notices or bulletins.

Shawna Fruin and Vincci Lam are attorneys who practice workers' compensation law in Washington and Oregon, respectively, with Reinisch Wilson Weier PC. Steven Reinisch is the firm's founder. This column is republished with permission from the firm's website.

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