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WASSERSTADT – A new aspect of employee compensation has emerged amid a global pandemic – the contract with COVID-19 while at work.

William W. Crossett IV, a local attorney who has represented injured workers for nearly 40 years, said he had started preparing to sue COVID-19 as an employee compensation claim once the first human tested positive.

It is state law that anyone who hires an employee must adhere to an employee compensation policy, and these employers rightly fear their premiums could rise if claims related to COVID-19 become popular in the workplace, said Crossett, a partner from MCV Law, a firm with offices in Watertown, Syracuse, and Chittenango, Madison Counties.

Mr. Crossett has met injured workers since the early 1980s and began his work in the north of the canton where there was dust-related illness among mine workers.

The Employee Compensation Act has always worked best for orthopedic injuries such as broken bones. As the law has evolved to include asbestos or baker’s asthma or post-traumatic stress disorder, it goes one step further and now recognizes COVID-19 as a possible claim.

The benefits of an accepted claim, according to the State Workers Compensation Board, can include payment of medical bills, compensation for wages, benefits to an employee’s dependents when the employee dies, or reimbursement of funeral services.

“It became clear very early on that it was going to happen,” said Crossett in his office on the third floor of the Lincoln building overlooking the public square. “However, the claims usually only come when people are better or aren’t getting their benefits.”

In most cases, injured workers come to Mr. Crossett wondering if they need to have a case, if it was made and their benefits were cut, or if their case was immediately rejected. Mr. Crossett and his team are trained to hear a customer’s story and determine if the injury is related to the workplace. The driving evidence is a medical certificate and COVID-19 is no exception.

It probably wouldn’t be enough to make a claim if someone tested positive at work. Ideally, a health care professional would testify in their case that there was a connection between the positive test and the place where they received it. A contact tracer to testify might help, but Mr. Crossett would likely run into confidentiality and privacy issues, or the fact that the Workers’ Compensation Act doesn’t have as extensive subpoenas as other courts.

“The magic words are ‘in a reasonable level of medical safety,” he said. “That’s kind of the gold standard and it’s not easy to come by.”

Mr. Crossett would also try to determine if the employee is unemployed due to COVID-19.

There would be no benefits if an employee were away with the flu for seven days, for example. However, with COVID-19, Mr. Crossett would study long-term effects that would affect an employee to some extent. With COVID-19 he said it could be heart problems, breathing problems, lung problems, or fatigue, to name a few. Many of the potential long-term effects are not yet known, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue as the injured worker is entitled to benefits once an employee compensation case is discovered – even if they come down the street, Crossett said.

COVID-19 also brought with it instructions from the state government to work remotely. Mr. Crossett pointed out that employee compensation claims can also be made from home.

“Whether or not we can argue that they contracted COVID at home during their work to claim workers’ compensation is likely a stretch,” he said. “The point is that if you work at home or remotely, you may be eligible for employee compensation.”

As a small business owner, Mr. Crossett said he thought employers had good reason to believe their premiums could go up. Because of this, it treats COVID-19 no differently than the number of workplace exposures that it has contested in the past. He supplies masks as well as hand sanitizer in his shop and the downsizing in the office.

“Employers have to be flexible,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure for a disclaimer. You really want to say that you can’t sue your employer over COVID. “

One problem for workers making a COVID-19 claim could be getting representation at all.

Some attorneys may deny the cases because the industry may refer to them as medical-only claims. This means that the injured worker just wants his hospital bills to be paid and that lawyers cannot be paid in these cases as there is no money going to the worker.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Crossett, “and my experience has shown me that helping people like this is good for my business.”

Mr. Crossett is ready to be called by a worker who believes he has tested positive on the job. He is already working on a number of claims in his region.

“When you are injured, out of work, or have COVID, your life is disrupted,” he said. “Part of our mission is to help you get that back.”

Most importantly, Mr. Crossett and his team are working on developing a strategy, but they also know their clients don’t wake up and hope that it is the day they begin a relationship with an employee compensation lawyer.

“People are always better off working than receiving employee compensation benefits,” he said. “You make more money, your career is not over, and you are a productive member of society.”

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