Your Business Could Be Liable if Your Employees Test Positive for Coronavirus

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By Thomas Steinbrenner

Whether an employee contracted it while working abroad, or at work from another employee or patient, healthcare employers can be held liable for workers’ compensation claims associated with coronavirus. Find out how to curb your risk today. 

As the deadly 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.

Consider the following scenarios in which an employer would file a worker’s compensation (WC) claim due to coronavirus:

1.    An employee contracts coronavirus while working overseas.

2.    A local employee contracts coronavirus unknowingly and infects others they work with.

WC policies will typically cover lost time, permanent disability, medical expenses and death benefits in these scenarios. 

What if an employee unknowingly infects their spouse and children as well? Again, this is a covered peril. 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 17, coronavirus has infected more than 71,000 people around the world. While mostly in mainland China, this number includes at least 15 cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.[1]

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 a proactive approach. If your healthcare organization 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 healthcare niche and location and establish procedures that can be enacted on a moment’s notice.

2.    Be precautious. Employees arriving home from overseas work or who suspect they were exposed to the virus locally should be sent straight to a doctor to be tested, even before returning home or to the office. Require full physician clearance for any exposed employees before returning to work. Make sure employees are not punished financially for following protocol. Publicize this procedure so employees are clear on the protocol should they find themselves exposed to coronavirus.

3.    Back to the hygiene basics. While it sounds self-explanatory, employees need constant reminders, especially in a healthcare environment where immuno-compromised patients, including children and the elderly are being treated. If you haven’t already, hang signs around the facility reminding employees 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.   

Now a world-wide outbreak, coronoavirus continues to pick up steam traveling around the globe. For healthcare organizations, it’s time to start thinking about the outbreak multi-dimensionally, not only from a clinical perspective but also as it relates to employment practices and worker’s compensation. Your insurance broker or workers compensation expert can help provide more information on coronavirus, workers compensation and enforcing these best practices.

About the author:

Thomas Steinbrenner is a Senior Vice President at Hub International.  He has a unique background in the field, having held insurance company management positions in claims, underwriting, and sales.

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