The COVID-19 pandemic has been tragic for many families across Ohio and certainly life altering for all Ohioans. Workplaces have been shuttered in many industries. For those working in essential businesses, the work setting has been dramatically changed. For healthcare and first responders, working long hours facing the risk of exposure and illness has become the new normal.
I just wanted to provide an update on the status of Ohio Workers’ Compensation laws and the rules and policies in Ohio as they relate to the outbreak of the COVID-19.
Changes at Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation
- The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is continuing to operate. The staff of the BWC is working remotely and continuing to process claims and benefits including new claims. The staff of the BWC does not have phone capabilities but can access voicemail. The best way to communicate is through email.
- MEDCO-14s – If you are on temporary total disability, these benefits are paid based upon the medco-14 form completed by your physician of record. With COVID-19, the BWC updated its policy and will pay temporary total disability benefits without a medco-14 form on file until April 30, 2020. So, if you cannot get to your doctor to update your disability status the BWC will continue to pay your temporary total disability benefits.
- Telemedicine Visits –The BWC has updated its policy and is allowing for telemedicine visits in place of regular office visits. If you are uncomfortable visiting your physician of record or cannot leave your home, contact your doctor’s office to inquire as to whether they are able to do a phone visit in place of a regular office visit.
- Vocational Rehabilitation – Living Maintenance benefits will continue to be paid until April 30, 2020 regardless of whether plan services have been suspended.
- Wage Loss Benefits- The requirement for job searches has been suspended and wage loss benefits will continue to be paid until April 30, 2020.
- Independent Medical Examinations – The BWC has discontinued all examinations. They are exploring options for virtual examinations instead of regular examinations. In order to continue to process claims, where possible, they are using physician reviews (medical record reviews) instead of examinations.
What If My Employer is Self-Insured?
Many large employers in Ohio pay workers’ compensation benefits directly. They must pay according to the laws and rules of Ohio while Ohio BWC has some oversight responsibilities. However, BWC Policy is not law or rule and a self-insured employer is NOT required to comply with BWC Policy.
In terms of the BWC COVID-19 policy, the BWC did send a letter to all self-insured employers telling them that the BWC expects them to follow these temporary policies. However, the self-insured employers are well aware they do not have to comply.
If your employer is self-insured, you MUST check with them to see if they are complying with the temporary policies put into effect by the BWC.
The Industrial Commission of Ohio
The Industrial Commission of Ohio (IC) is a separate state agency distinct from the Ohio BWC. Its sole function is to adjudicate disputes that arise out of workers’ compensation claims and to process permanent total disability claims. Generally, the IC holds regular in-person hearings at multiple offices throughout the state of Ohio. These hearings are conducted by IC Hearing Officers.
Because of the COVID-19 virus threat, the IC has discontinued in-person hearings. It has done a remarkable job of conducting certain issues by telephonic hearing. Issues such as allowance, additional allowance, permanent total disability and temporary total disability are proceeding as telephonic hearings. Permanent partial disability, treatment and all other hearings are not going forward during the pendency of this crisis. Be advised that treatment hearings will be considered, upon request, on a case-by-case basis.
With respect to permanent partial disability hearings, the BWC will accept agreements with employers on disputed permanent partial disability claims while these hearings are suspended, as long as all medical exams have been completed.
COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Claims
Is it a workers’ compensation claim if I test positive and I believe that the exposure occurred at work? The answer is “it depends.” Communicable diseases are not typically thought of as workers’ compensation claims. However, if you have an increased risk of exposure because of the work that you do, then any illness associated with COVID-19 virus could be considered a valid workers’ compensation claim. If you are a first responder, a healthcare worker or simply work in a healthcare setting, you should report this to your employer and make sure a claim is filed with the Ohio BWC.
However, it is important to note that being exposed to the virus itself and having to discontinue working is not in and of itself a workers’ compensation compensable claim. Even if the exposure was the result of the work you do, to have a valid claim, there must be an injury. Simply being exposed is not an injury. Only when you test positive does this become a potential workers’ compensation claim.
If you are working a light duty or transitional work assignment as the result of restrictions from your doctor due to a workers’ compensation claim, and your job is eliminated or you can no longer work, do not simply file for unemployment. The COVID-19 outbreak caused many businesses to decrease staff or shut down. In many instances, people cannot work because of being self-quarantined. In those circumstances, if you were provided a light duty job due to restrictions from a BWC claim, you should file to start or restart your temporary total disability benefits, as opposed to simply filing a claim for unemployment. Generally, you are eligible for temporary total if you cannot do your former job and no light duty is available.
If your restrictions are permanent (maximum medical improvement – MMI), you are not eligible for temporary total disability. In such circumstance, you should pursue wage loss or potentially vocational rehabilitation as opposed to unemployment benefits. The rates are likely higher and the benefits potentially longer lasting.
We Can Help
Nager, Romaine & Schneiberg (NRS Injury Law) is an essential business and fully operational. We are a statewide law firm. To keep our associate attorneys and staff safe, we have transitioned to work at home status for most of our staff. Those in the office are working in shifts to create safe distancing. We are not seeing clients in the office. We have the capabilities to serve all your needs remotely, including new client sign ups.
If you have a COVID-19 claim, a new injury claim, or would like to discuss an existing claim, please call us. We are here to help. Please keep in mind, there are no out-of-pocket costs. We don’t get paid unless you get paid.
Call at (855) GOT HURT / (855) 468-4878 or on the web at NRSinjurylaw.com. We look forward to assisting you with your injury claim.