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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives, and our workplace policies are no different.  The Ohio General Assembly has enacted legislation in response to these ever-changing times.  On September 14, 2020, Governor Mike DeWine signed into law HB 606 which provides immunity from civil liability for COVID-19 claims.  The effective date of this legislation is December 16, 2020.

So, What Does This Legislation Do?

In short, this legislation ensures civil immunity to individuals, schools, health care providers, businesses, and other entities from lawsuits arising from exposure, transmission, and/or contraction of COVID-19, or any mutation of the virus, as long as the entities did not act with reckless, intentional, or willful misconduct.

HB 606 generally prohibits bringing a civil action/lawsuit against any person/entity for injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by exposure to, or transmission, and/or contraction of, MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, or SARS-CoV-2 for the time period from March 9, 2020, through September 30, 2021.  This immunity is negated when the exposure, transmission, and/or contraction was caused by “reckless conduct” or intentional, willful, or wanton misconduct.  For more information on the legislation, see the Ohio Legislative Service Commission’s Analysis of HB 606, which can be found here.

Are Qualifying Employers Absolved of Workers’ Compensation Claims Due to COVID-19?

No.  While this legislation helps to shield employers from some tort claims, workers’ compensation benefits are not included in the immunity protection.  That is, employees can still claim workers’ compensation benefits if they can demonstrate that they contracted COVID-19 in the course and scope of their employment. 

Ohio law provides, in certain instances, workers’ compensation benefits for diseases related to one’s employment.  R.C. 4123.68 identifies scheduled occupational diseases compensable under Ohio law, including diseases such as asbestosis, carbon dioxide poisoning, and radiation illness.  However, an occupational disease need not be specifically included in R.C. 4123.68 in order to be compensable.  The Ohio General Assembly is presently considering legislation to include COVID-19 as a scheduled occupational disease under this section. (See HB 573). 

In order to receive workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19, an employee has the burden of proving,  the following elements:

  1. A diagnosis of COVID-19;
  2. COVID-19 was contracted in the course and scope of employment; and
  3. The employment created a risk of contracting COVID-19 in a greater degree and in a different manner from the public in general.

Many employers in Ohio are able to defend against a workers’ compensation claim for COVID-19 by arguing that the employment does not result in a greater and/or unique risk to its employees.  However, employers such as hospitals or other healthcare providers will have a harder time demonstrating this due to the nature of the services they provide.

We Can Help!

The attorneys at Thomas & Company have successfully defended Ohio employers against workers’ compensation claims for COVID-19.  Our defense strategy includes working with clients to perform a thorough investigation which includes gathering the right facts and materials to successfully defend against unwarranted claims. At Thomas & Company, we strive to provide our clients with a team of lawyers who obtain excellent results and forge strong, trusting, and lasting relationships.  If you are interested in our services or have questions about this article, please contact us at (740) 363-7182 or fill out the web form under the “Contact” tab on our website.

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