On Memorial Day, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that families of frontline public employees who die from COVID-19 would be entitled to benefits typically reserved for those who suffer fatal injuries on the job.
Citing the need to do more than simply thank the men and women who brave the line of duty to provide essential services, Gov. Cuomo revealed that the State of New York and New York City would extend death benefits to surviving family members of public employees. To date, nearly 300 NYC employees have died from the coronavirus.
Update: On May 30, 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed S.8427 / A.10528 into law, providing families of city, county, and state employees who worked the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic with the right to obtain additional death benefits paid out of local and state pension funds. The measure amends the state’s retirement and social security law by adding a new section for the § 509-a. COVID-19 benefit.
Under the new law, families of fallen, public “frontline workers” (which would include public health care providers, transit workers, emergency responders, police, and firefighters, among others) who reported to work on or after March 1, 2020 and contracted COVID-19 within 45 days are entitled to 50% of their loved one’s pension (or their full pension in the case of police or firefighters) for life. Previously, families of fallen frontline workers were only entitled to pension benefits for three years.
If you have questions about the new law and benefits available to the families of public employees who passed away after contracting COVID-19, The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C. is available to help. Call or contact us online 24/7 to request a FREE consultation.
Pending Legislation May Extend Benefits to Workers With Coronavirus
Gov. Cuomo’s recent announcement may precipitate more changes to New York’s workers’ compensation system in light of COVID-19. Currently, there are a number of pending state and federal bills being considered by lawmakers:
- AB 10401(S08266) would include exposure to the coronavirus (COVID-19) as an occupational disease and allow New York workers who contract COVID-19, or surviving family member, to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for related disabilities or death.
- AB 10172 (SB 8041-A) would amend New York’s Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefit Law and the Volunteer Ambulance Workers’ Benefit Law to provide needed medical examinations, tests, and treatment to volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers who are exposed to COVID-19 as a result of services performed in the line of duty during a state of emergency. The bill would also grant the presumption that exposure to COVID-19 caused partial or total disability or death.
- AB 10391(SB 8117-A) would create the presumption, for the use of sick leave, that certain law enforcement, probation / parole officers, and other emergency responders in New York who contract COVID-19 did so in the performance of their official duties.
- HR 6656, a federal bill, would entitle certain TSA employees diagnosed with COVID-19 during a specified period to benefits under federal workers’ compensation.
For weeks, essential workers have braved grave risks and deep uncertainties to provide critical services to our communities. In New York, the country’s epicenter of the pandemic, the question for employers in the heart of the crisis has become more a matter of when employees will contract the virus than if.
Knowing these risks, pending legislation like the bills above will be crucial to ensuring infected workers and their families have the right to seek workers’ compensation benefits without facing substantial hurdles. In cases where the virus results in severe illness, significant pain and suffering, and extensive medical bills, such benefits will be vital to victims and their families.
COVID-19: A Qualifying Occupational Disease?
As we’ve discussed on our blog, most employees who suffer injury or illness “arising out of and in the course of” employment are eligible for weekly cash benefits and / or medical benefits associated with their condition.
In the absence of the right to file civil lawsuits against an employer, workers’ compensation is often the only remedy for workers who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses on the job.
While illnesses contracted in the course of employment are compensable under New York workers’ compensation laws, COVID-19 is not specifically recognized under the New York Workers’ Compensation Law (NYWCL). As such, workers who do contract the virus would have the burden of proving a direct link between the illness and the nature of their employment. Similarly, victims of on-the-job “accidents” would also need to prove a clear connection between the condition and a specific event.
Though there is precedent in matters involving occupational disease, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an increasing surge of questions that Courts, or lawmakers, will soon have to answer. New laws, if passed, could significantly change how workers affected by COVID-19 pursue these cases.
Attorney Edward Guldi has discussed these and other workers’ compensation questions with a number of news outlets since the pandemic began. You can read more about COVID-19 and NY workers’ compensation on our blog.
The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C.: Fighting For Workers Since 1983
Our team at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., will continue to track ongoing developments that impact our clients, communities, and the cases we handle. This includes pending legislation that may expand workers’ comp benefits to workers and families facing significant struggles amid these difficult times.
If you have a potential case to discuss, our attorneys are available to help – and are happy to provide free consultations via phone, e-mail, or video conferencing. Contact us to speak with a lawyer.