Today, Governor Tim Walz signed into law an unprecedented temporary amendment to Minnesota's Workers’ Compensation Act. The new law was enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and follows similar legislation in several other states. The intent of the law is to ensure that employees in certain designated employment classifications, who contract COVID-19, have the advantage of a presumption that the condition was contracted at work. This temporary amendment involves a change to the definition of occupational disease under Minn. Stat §176.011, subd. 15. Below are some general FAQs to provide insight in to this new statute:
When does the statute go into effect?
The law goes into effect immediately for any qualified employee who contracts COVID-19 on or after the date of enactment. The law remains in effect until May 1, 2021.
What classifications of employees are covered by the temporary amendment?
The statute lists the following employment classifications as eligible for the presumption:
- Peace office under section 626.84, subdivision 1
- Nurse or health care worker, correctional officer, or security counselor employed by the state or a political subdivision at a corrections, detention, or secure treatment facility
- Emergency medical technician
- Health care provider, nurse, or assistive employee employed in a health care, home care, or long-term care setting, with direct COVID-19 patient care or ancillary work in COVID-19 patient units
- Workers required to provide child care to first responders and health care workers under Executive Order 20-02 and Executive Order 20-19. (The referenced Executive Orders define child care provider broadly. Child care provider includes family child care, schools, other facilities, family, friend, and neighbor care.)
Does an employee covered under the statute need to test positive for COVID-19?
No, a positive test is not required to qualify for the presumption that the condition is work-related. The statute indicates that if a laboratory test is not available, a licensed physician, licensed physician assistant, or licensed advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) may diagnose the employee’s symptoms as COVID-19 without a positive test.
The statute does indicate that in order to qualify for the presumption a copy of the positive test or written documentation needs to be provided to the employer or insurer.
Can a COVID-19 claim be denied for an employee in a covered employment class?
Yes, the statute requires that the employee be both in the specific covered employment classification and provide the documentation of a positive test or diagnosis of COVID-19. If there is no documentation of the positive test or diagnosis of COVID-19, a claim can be denied.
If an employee is in the covered classification and has the documentation of the COVID-19 diagnosis, the employee receives the presumption of an occupational disease. This presumption can be rebutted, however, the burden shifts to the employer/insurer to demonstrate that the employment was “not a direct cause of the disease.” We anticipate that this will be a difficult standard to meet, and that to do so will require significant evidence supporting no exposure in the work place, or something that establishes that the claimant contracted COVID-19 from a source outside of the workplace.
Can other classifications of employees claim COVID-19 as a work related disease? Can employees in the designated classifications who contracted COVID-19 before April 8, 2020, or contract it after May 1, 2021, claim that the condition is work-related?
Yes, however, those employees do not get the benefit of the presumption. An employee who is not in a qualifying employment classification, or did not contract the condition in the designated time frame for the temporary amendment, would have the burden to show their COVID-19 arose out of and in the course of their employment.
The Minnesota Legislature continues to meet and may pass additional laws that impact workers’ compensation. Arthur Chapman’s Workers’ Compensation practice group is on top of this fluid and evolving situation. Please call us with any questions relating to your specific business needs.