As of this writing, more than 44,000 Marylanders have contracted COVID-19. The nature of disease and availability of accurate testing would suggest that those individuals are experiencing symptoms of some type. There are those that speculate that in fact any more Marylanders are actually COVID-19 positive. Many of those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and a COVID-19 diagnosis have missed work and incurred medical expenses due to the disease.
Maryland law may provide workers’ compensation benefits for those that contract COVID-19 because of their employment.
Maryland workers’ compensation law, generally, provides compensation for individuals who contract what is known as an occupational disease through their employment. In determining whether a given condition qualifies, “[t]he court determines whether: (a) the "nature" of the employment includes the hazards of the ailment the employee suffers from to a greater degree than that present in general employment; and (b) whether the employee's job functions expose the employee to those hazards.” Balt. Cnty. v. Quinlan, 466 Md. 1, 215 A.3d 282 (Md. App. 2019), citing Clifford B. Sobin, 1 Maryland Workers' Compensation § 7.2, at 197 (2018). The Quinlan court also quoted with approval as being in line with the thinking of the Maryland judges a North Carolina opinion, which stated: “The fact that the general public may contract a disease is not controlling; the test of compensability is whether the nature of the employment exposes the worker to a greater risk of the disease than the risk experienced by the general public or workers in other employments.” Harvey v. Raleigh Police Dep’t, 355 S.E.2d 147, 150 (N.C. Ct. App. 1987) “The [Maryland] Act does not limit occupational diseases to rare diseases or those exclusive to a specific profession.” Quinlan, supra, citing Judge Laheay, A., in Quinlan, 238 Md. App. at 508.
What types of employment exposes workers to coronavirus and an increased risk of COVID-19? This is a question that effective workers' compensation attorneys will ask the courts to decide. This is a non-exhaustive list of the types of employers and industries who were given the choice by Maryland to stay open during the COVID-19 / coronavirus pandemic. See Order of the Governor of the State of Maryland, Number 20-03-23-01. Many chose to do so.
- Janitorial firms.
- “Big box” home improvement supply stores
- Dry cleaners
- Earth-moving, mining, agricultural, and construction equipment.
- Parts for water, electric, and telecommunications utility infrastructure.
- Law enforcement.
- Emergency medical services.
- Emergency management.
- Fire and rescue services.
- Private ambulance companies.
- Banks and credit unions.
- Non-bank lenders.
- Armored car companies. vi. Insurance companies.
- Securities and investment companies.
- Accounting and bookkeeping firms.
- Grocery stores.
- Farmer’s markets.
- Convenience stores.
- Alcoholic beverage stores and distributors, distilleries, and wineries.
- Food manufacturing and processing.
- Pet supply stores.
- Veterinary hospitals, clinics, and kennels.
- Lawyers and law firms.
- Court reporters.
- Bail bondsmen.
- Healthcare systems and clinics.
- Offices of health care providers, including physicians, dentists, and pharmacists.
- Physical, occupation, and speech therapists.
- Behavioral health facilities and professionals, including psychologists, mental health counselors, and substance abuse counselors
- Rehabilitation facilities.
- Diagnostic facilities, including radiology, imaging, and laboratory facilities.
- Funeral homes and crematoriums.
- Senior living facilities, including independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing.
- Medical cannabis dispensaries.
- Home health care companies.
- Courier, package delivery, mail service, and mail management companies.
The skilled and effective workers’ compensation claimant’s attorney may point out the job duties of workers in these fields may well, and to some extent necessarily, expose the individual to contact with the public, or in some instances, to those who are ill, in a manner not encountered by an employee working from home, or in a small office, alone, or by the public, generally. The question the court will address is whether these roles include the hazard of coronavirus/COVIUD-19 to a greater degree than that present in general employment. The insurance company will still argue that the the injured worker must still be called upon to demonstrate a probable workplace exposure, which will depend on the unique facts and circumstances of each case.