When a Blog Makes Sense

VoxFairfax Editors’ Note: Sourced from the Virginia Mercury, August 26, 2020, by Kate Masters. 

Four months prior to the General Assembly’s August Special Session, VoxFairfax suggested  (https://wp.me/p9wDCF-1li) in a post that the legislators should consider amending the state’s workers compensation laws to address health protections during the pandemic. The May 4, 2020, article explored the potential for the century-old statutory scheme of how workers compensation can be a solution to problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we said then,

COVID-19 presents an opportunity for Virginia to bring up to date its workers’ compensation laws in the interests of public health and to include enhanced protection for employees against an invisible threat…. The state’s authority to adopt and enforce its emergency closure actions is now being challenged, largely by free marketers from the right. It is incumbent upon that leadership to consider the health of all Commonwealth citizens–not merely the economic health of employers–above concerns about liability.

On August 26, a bill was introduced that would make it easier for many frontline employees to claim worker’s compensation for contracting COVID-19 on the job. Unlike similar legislation in the Senate, this bill includes protections for health care workers and school board employees — which would include K-12 teachers — in addition to law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders. It passed by a vote of 18-4. 

On August 26, a bill was introduced that would make it easier for many frontline employees to claim worker’s compensation for contracting COVID-19 on the job. Unlike similar legislation in the Senate, this bill includes protections for health care workers and school board employees — which would include K-12 teachers — in addition to law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders. It passed by a vote of 18-4. 

Eligibility for workers’ compensation has been a major concern for educators as districts consider their reopening plans. Ten of the state’s local school divisions reopened with in-person classes, and another 54 have plans that involve at least some face-to-face instruction, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

Supporters argued that many essential workers would be ineligible for benefits without a change to state code. “What our members have seen is denial after denial of benefits for those who are on the front lines of this pandemic,” said a personal injury attorney and board member for the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, which worked with first responders to help craft the bill. 

Opposed to this legislation is the Virginia School Boards Association, saying that local districts cannot afford these measures. According to them, the legislation would create a presumption that COVID-19 is an occupational disease for school board employees, which they say “goes too far.” The association calls this an unfunded mandate that has a potential $80 million dollar price tag for local school divisions. “If passed, this legislation will increase legal and administrative burdens on local school boards at a time when budgets are severely strained due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.”

Opposed to this legislation is the Virginia School Boards Association, saying that local districts cannot afford these measures. According to them, the legislation would create a presumption that COVID-19 is an occupational disease for school board employees, which they say “goes too far.” The association calls this an unfunded mandate that has a potential $80 million dollar price tag for local school divisions. “If passed, this legislation will increase legal and administrative burdens on local school boards at a time when budgets are severely strained due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.”

The board’s opposition stated that the bill creates “a presumption that a teacher who contracts COVID-19 contracted it at work is nonsensical in the context of remote learning.  Moreover, the retroactive nature of this bill to January 1, 2020 is very problematic.”

A key recommendation by VoxFairfax in its article was the creation of a Virginia State Insurance Fund to function as an insurer similar to that in many other states. New York’s State Insurance Fund was created in 1914 spurred, in part, by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911. Maryland’s state insurance fund dates to 1970. Many states have created a fund to assist businesses in obtaining mandated, low-cost employee coverage for injuries, illnesses, and wage replacement, often including disability benefits. Virginia has not. 

In VoxFairfax‘s view, as long as frontline workers–and this includes teachers in face-to-face situations–are considered essential, they must be legally protected from possible injury due to required work. Anything less is not worthy of an advanced nation–as we pointed out 125 days ago. 

 

 



Categories: coronavirus, Issues, labor and unions, Local, National, pandemic, politics, State

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