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Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Long COVID?

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“I was exposed to COVID-19 at work several months ago. Because I only experienced mild symptoms, I didn’t file a workers’ compensation claim. I have recently started experiencing symptoms of long COVID, including chronic fatigue and cognitive impairment, and I am unable to work. Can I file a workers’ compensation claim?”

Answer

As discussed in our previous post, establishing a claim for workers comp due to COVID-19 and long COVID can be challenging. The claimant typically must prove that their illness originated from a workplace exposure to COVID-19. This can be difficult because the claimant may not begin experiencing post COVID symptoms until several months after their initial exposure. Any delay between the workplace exposure and the onset of the symptoms makes it difficult to prove that the workplace exposure was the cause of the long COVID symptoms months later.

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) published a report in October 2022 analyzing workers’ compensation claims nationally. The study found 47 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients with workers’ compensation claims continued to experience long COVID symptoms 30 days after hospital discharge. Alarmingly, over 80 percent of all claims involving long COVID are in occupations related to health care and emergency response. These figures demonstrate how these professions are disproportionately impacted by occupational exposure to COVID-19.

Workers Comp Programs Vary State-by-State

In some states, an employee who files for workers comp during acute illness may be able to extend their existing claim if they begin experiencing post COVID symptoms. Some allow workers to establish a workers comp claim retroactively. A claimant’s ability to file a claim in this situation will depend on the rules of their state’s workers’ compensation program.

For example, Nevada requires claimants to file for workers comp within 90 days of the date of the injury (Nev. Rev. Stat. Sec. 616C.015). If the claimant begins experiencing symptoms of long COVID and did not file within 90 days of exposure, they may not comply with Nevada’s statute of limitations. In a state like South Carolina, workers comp is unlikely to provide coverage for post COVID symptoms because the state excludes coverage for injuries caused by contagious diseases unless the claimant’s occupation places them at a greater risk of exposure (S.C. Code Ann. Sec. 42-11-10).

In contrast, New York’s workers comp program allows claims to be filed within 2 years of the date of the injury (N.Y. Workers’ Comp Law Sec. 28). The state’s program allows a new claim for long COVID even in the absence of an original claim for COVID-19 if filed within 2 years of the initial exposure. Similarly, California’s workers comp program allows claims to be filed within 1 year of exposure (Cal. Lab. Code Sec. 5405). A recent report from the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau of California (WCIRB) in March 2022 found 11 percent of workers’ compensation claims involving mild COVID-19 infections resulted in treatment for long COVID up to four months after the initial infection. A concerning 36 percent of severe COVID-19 cases and 40 percent of critical cases resulted in continued medical claims for the treatment of post COVID symptoms.

Find Support for Long COVID Workers' Compensation Claims

Most states require workers’ compensation claims to be filed within 6 months, 1 year, or 2 years of the date of exposure and claimants must establish that the exposure arose from their employment. Due to the highly infectious nature of COVID-19, it is difficult for a claimant to secure eligibility for these worker benefits as more time passes after exposure. However, workers comp programs typically have a process to appeal adverse benefit determinations. If you file a workers’ compensation claim and it is denied, be sure to consult with an attorney to explore your options for appealing the decision. 

Individuals who have been affected by COVID-19 may be eligible for pro bono legal assistance through our Pandemic Legal Assistance Network (PLAN). If you are unable to successfully obtain workers’ compensation benefits, you may still be eligible for other benefits. Check out our COVID-19 and Disability Benefits page for more information.

What is Long-term Disability Insurance?

Long-term disability (LTD) insurance is a type of insurance that provides financial protection for employees who are unable to work due to a disability. It can help to replace a portion of an employee’s lost income and can provide important financial support for those who are facing a long-term illness or injury.

Patient-Led Researchers Publish Comprehensive Study on Long COVID

On January 13, 2023, a major study authored by Hannah E. Davis, Lisa McCorkell, Julia Moore Vogel, and Eric J. Topol was published in Nature Reviews Microbiology. This study, titled “Long COVID: major findings, mechanisms and recommendations,” provides a comprehensive overview of long COVID and the current understanding of the associated pathophysiology.

How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?

If you meet the eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, you may be able to receive disability benefits, even if you are not covered by a private or employer-sponsored disability insurance plan.

Can My Employer Terminate Me After I Request Workplace Accommodations?

“I’m experiencing debilitating long-term symptoms of COVID-19, including vertigo and cognitive impairment. I notified my employer about my disability and requested accommodations to help me perform my job duties. Shortly afterward, I was terminated from my job. Were my rights violated?”