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First Responders And The Fight For COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation

Firetruck on the road

The premise behind workers’ compensation is simple. If a worker gets injured or incapacitated while performing their job, workers’ compensation steps in to ease that financial burden of being unable to work. It also helps cover any necessary medical expenses that accrue as a result of the injury or impairment. It would seem simpler than that frontline workers, more specifically first responders, would be covered under workers’ compensation if they contract the coronavirus while performing essential duties. Unfortunately, that is not the case in California… yet.


There is a major push in California right now for Presumptive Workers’ Compensation Coverage for first responders. Firefighters, police officers, and EMS personnel are some of the most highly exposed members of our society at the moment. These brave men and women are often the first people to come in contact with positive COVID-19 cases, many times before the patients even realize they are positive.


California Is Lagging Behind Other States

These states have already recognized first responders’ sacrifices and extensive health dangers they are being exposed to currently:

  • Alaska

  • Illinois

  • Kentucky

  • Florida

  • Minnesota

  • Michigan

  • North Dakota

  • Missouri

  • Washington


Governor Gavin Newsom has not yet addressed this issue as a whole. Instead, he has left the determination up to employers and insurers who can decide whether or not to provide workers’ compensation for COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, these heroes are having to go above and beyond to prove that they contracted the virus while in the line of duty. As if dealing with the multitude of life-threatening symptoms and mitigating the risk of exposure to their own loved ones wasn’t enough, these dedicated first responders are also having to muster the capacity to prove their illness was contracted while serving their community.

Financial Impact To Insurers Is Expected To Be Minimal

Contracting the coronavirus can be detrimental to a person’s health and financial well-being, hence the need for workers’ compensation benefits. However, the impact for insurance companies to pay these benefits is projected to be minimal. Most people who contract the virus will make a recovery without having long-term limitations on their ability to work. It is possible that a small percentage of people will have a permanent partial disability or death, which is even more reason to move forward with coverage. Experts say the potential cost of COVID-19 claims would not exceed the financial capacity of insurers.


Action Is Needed Now

The time to act is now. Each day that passes without protections for first responders puts the people we all rely on at greater risk. All across the state, first responders have begun contracting the disease. In Santa Rosa, there have been 10 police officers and one firefighter that have confirmed positive cases of COVID-19. In San Jose, the number of firefighters is much higher. This includes longtime Police Detective Marylou Armer who died on March 31st from coronavirus complications.


Even though the majority of coronavirus cases result in recovery, the fact remains that collateral damage is often done by the loss of income and cost of medical bills to treat the illness. It’s important to note that other serious illnesses are already covered under workers’ compensation in California. Tuberculosis, pneumonia, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder are automatically covered without anyone having to prove that they were contracted as a result of exposures on duty.

The Legislature is on recess until May 4th so it is not clear as to when California lawmakers will be able to fully address these concerns. On the bright side, special committees for COVID-19 response are meeting in the coming days which may help stimulate a solution. Our hometown heroes need us standing behind them now more than ever before. You can read more about the push to help first responders here.