Facilities could be liable if healthcare personnel test positive for coronavirus

If an employee tests positive for coronavirus they contracted while working, or they unknowingly brought the disease to work and infected others, employers can be held liable for a workers’ compensation claim

By Thomas Steinbrenner / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
June 2, 2020

As the  coronavirus epidemic spreads its wings globally, many healthcare-focused businesses are asking themselves: Can my business be liable if an employee tests positive for coronavirus, or is responsible for its spread to other employees or even patients?

The answer is yes.

Employers can and should file a worker’s compensation (WC) claim due to coronavirus if an employee contracts coronavirus - regardless of how, when or where they did - and infects others at work. Certainly, if they contracted it at work, that may also constitute a claim. WC policies will typically cover lost time, permanent disability, medical expenses and a death benefit in these scenarios.  

What if an employee unknowingly infects their spouse and children? Again, this is a covered peril if they contacted it at work. This time under WC coverage B, or the Employers Liability of WC coverage. When more than one employee or individual is involved, the WC claim will likely be considered a catastrophic loss or exposure claim, kicking in full policy limits.

What healthcare employers can do right now

As of February 27, coronavirus has infected more than 82,000 people around the world. While mostly in mainland China, this number includes at least 60 cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Thanks to efficient and effective disease prevention in the U.S., there’s a good chance the disease won’t become a pandemic domestically. However, there’s no way to tell for sure. Make sure your business is prepared with the following four best practices:

1.   Take every possible precaution. Healthcare environments will require increase caution when dealing with coronavirus because of their ability to spread the disease faster. Require clearance for any exposed employees before returning to work. Require employees waiting on coronavirus test results to remain at home until a negative result is official. Let the entire staff know they have been tested, and the result was negative. Take necessary steps to ensure employees are not punished financially for following protocol. Publicize this procedure so all workers are clear on the protocol should they find themselves exposed to coronavirus.

2.   Being proactive pays off. If your business doesn’t already have one, now is the time to create a business continuity, emergency preparedness and even pandemic reaction plan. First, establish a working group of employees from across your organization to author the plan. Consider business interruption issues specific to your industry, business and location and establish procedures that can be enacted on a moment’s notice.

3.   Increase hygiene reminders. Everyone from back-end facilities personnel to front end doctors and nurses need to be reminded to increase their hand washing during an outbreak. Hang signs everywhere, especially in patient areas, reminding employees, patients and visitors to wash their hands frequently and cover their faces while sneezing and coughing. Urge employees that aren’t feeling well to stay home and seek immediate medical attention. If necessary, amend your company policies to allow employees to work from home as needed, and or remove consequences for doing so.

Now facing a world-wide outbreak, coronavirus continues to pick up steam around the globe. For local healthcare organizations running facilities and working to avoid exposure, it’s time to start thinking about the outbreak multi-dimensionally. This means, beyond a clinical perspective to employment practices and worker’s compensation risk. Your insurance broker or workers compensation expert can provide more information on coronavirus, workers compensation and enforcing these best practices.

Thomas Steinbrenner is a Senior Vice President at Hub International.  

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Topic Area: Infection Control

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