Letter Sign-on: Gov. Baker Executive Order regarding workers compensation
May 20, 2020
Dear Governor Baker, Governor Gavin Newsom of California has recently issued an executive order making it easier for essential workers who contract COVID-19 to obtain workers compensation benefits. This order streamlines workers’ compensation claims and creates a rebuttable presumption that any essential worker infected with COVID-19 contracted the virus while on the job. This action shifts the burden of proof from the workers to insurers to prove that the employee didn’t get sick at work. This can be done by executive order here in Massachusetts, as California has done, and the undersigned urge you to take similar action today.
As you may know, HD4949 was filed in March to fast-track workers compensation benefits for frontline health care workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Just this month, HD5070 expanded this coverage to all essential workers. Like Governor Newsom’s order, these bills would create a rebuttable presumption on causation for anyone infected with COVID-19 while working as an EMT, or emergency room/urgent care medical or non-medical staff. An executive order by you should include a comprehensive list of eligible workers, including all hospital workers, traveling LPNs and CNAs, correctional facility workers, grocery store employees, and public transportation workers. Many of these workers are, and will be, infected with this awful virus in Massachusetts and they will need to take time off to isolate, recuperate, and recover. Colleagues on both sides of the aisle were quick to sign on in support of both HD4949 and HD5070.
As the law stands today, front-line workers are already able to file worker's compensation claims related to COVID-19 diagnoses. However, these employees will, unfortunately, have the burden of showing that the COVID-19 diagnosis was a result of their job. This will lead to insurance companies denying claims en masse, because - while it is obvious that these diagnoses are the result of being on the front-lines - it is nearly impossible to show where the COVID-19 molecule was actually ingested. In short, the current threshold will be too high for these workers. We owe it to them to ease this burden. An executive order by you would support the workers your administration declared as essential.
Taking this action would entitle front-line workers to immediate wage relief, consisting of 60% of their average weekly wage, as well as 100% of COVID-19-related medical care at DIA Board rates. Unlike the unemployment system, private insurance carriers would be responsible for these claims. Furthermore, given the nature of a COVID-19 diagnosis, infected workers will likely only require a brief period of recuperation, treatment, and isolation, so the burden on workers’ compensation insurers would be minimal.
It is important to note, as I am sure you are aware, that Massachusetts has one of the strongest workers' compensation systems in the country. During a time when our unemployment benefits system will be challenged in ways that we have never seen before, it is crucial that we ease that administrative burden by rightfully directing these cases into the workers' compensation system.
A denial of a workers compensation claim for a worker with COVID-19 would surely lead to that person turning to the unemployment system, which is not only wrong (these COVID-19 cases are work-related to begin with and, thus, not appropriate for the unemployment system), but bad policy as well. We should be looking to mitigate the potential chaos within our unemployment system, not exacerbate it with denied workers compensation claims.
Governor Baker, an executive order creating a legal, rebuttable presumption for essential workers regarding COVID-19 would significantly ease their burden without unduly prejudicing workers’ compensation insurers. We respectfully urge you to take this action as our front-line healthcare workers will need such an accommodation to rightfully receive immediate wage and medical relief related to COVID-19.
Representative Christopher Hendricks
Representative Kenneth Gordon
Senator Brendan P. Crighton
Senator Patrick O’Connor
Representative Brian Ashe
Representative Pete Capano
Representative Edward F. Coppinger
Representative Claire D. Cronin
Representative Michael Day
Representative Linda Dean Campbell
Representative Mindy Domb
Representative Nika C. Elugardo
Representative Colleen M. Garry
Representative Carlos Gonzalez
Representative Richard M. Haggerty
Representative Sheila Harrington
Representative Stephan Hay
Representative Patrick Kearney
Representative Kay Khan
Representative Kathleen LaNatra
Representative Jay Livingstone
Representative Denise Provost
Representative Maria Duaime Robinson
Representative Dan Ryan
Representative Jon Santiago
Representative Susannah Whipps