Coronavirus Legal Update for Healthcare Workers & First Responders

March 20, 2020


Brent Eames

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has been evolving every day, and as it evolves, legislation at all levels of government has been proposed to attempt to deal with the challenges which lie ahead for first responders and healthcare workers.  Frustration is mounting as the crisis develops given the lack of any uniformity in standards or protocols for handling patients or providing testing.  Although help may be on the way in the form of legislation and resources, this uncertainty is making an already difficult job even more stressful. 

With regard to legislation, one of the most important proposals making its way through Congress is the COVID-19 Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2020 (H.R. 6139) which would mandate that OSHA publish a temporary standard and protocol for dealing with patients within 30 days.  On March 5th, the chair of the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee pushed OHSA and the Secretary of Labor to move quickly, warning that, “If health care workers are quarantined in large numbers, or get ill or die, or fear coming to work due to the risks, it’s not just a personal or workplace problem, it’s a national public health disaster.” Given that OSHA is currently the only agency in the federal government authorized to enforce safe working conditions for our nation’s workers, this direction must come from them.   

In the meantime, even without these laws in place, there are certain precautions which you should consider while we wait for more guidance in the form of new laws in order to protect yourself and your family in the event you become ill.  The first thing I would suggest would be to DOCUMENT EVERYTHING via a Form 45 or other incident report.  Were you exposed as a result of your duties?  Do you suspect you were exposed as a result of your duties?  Request to make an incident report immediately and indicate in detail the cause of your work-related exposures.  Given the way this virus spreads, it will likely be difficult to confirm based upon a reasonable degree of medical certainty where and when the exposure occurred.  However, documented evidence of any exposures at work will certainly give you a fighting chance to claim a work-related injury.  This could potentially provide benefits under the Illinois Occupational Disease Act or another law which may not even be written yet.

It is reasonable to expect that many protections and benefits for first responders and healthcare workers who become ill as a result of this pandemic may be issued retroactively.  Consider the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which is a Federal law designed to provide benefits to first responders who suffered health conditions as a result of their exposure following the September 11, 2001 tragedy.  This was not implemented for almost a decade after-the-fact in 2010.  With so much uncertainty about what is to come, for your own protection, documenting exposures with an incident report will be your best way to protect yourself in the event you are ultimately demanded to prove a workplace exposure.

For safety precautions, the CDC has published Interim Guidance for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems and 911 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) for COVID-19 in the United States, as well as Information for Law Enforcement Personnel . Say safe, and please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns.

The content of this blog is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute or establish an attorney-client relationship, nor constitute legal advice. If you wish to discuss any further aspect of the material contained herein, please contact an attorney at Eames Law Group, Ltd.

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