Nebraska allows workers to recover for occupational diseases in addition to injuries or conditions caught directly arising out of and in the course of their work duties. An occupational disease is one that is particular to an occupation or line of work. The Department of Labor’s findings about COVID-19 exposure in health care, could be a thumb on the scale for workers, or their surviving dependents, trying to bring a workers’ compensation claim.
While the new rule is helpful, it may not be game changing. Workers compensation laws are state laws. A federal regulation wouldn’t bind a state court or agency deciding a workers’ compensation case. Additionally, many states have passed COVID-19 presumptions under their state’s workers compensation laws for health care workers. This means that if certain classes of workers catch COVID-19, it is presumed to be work-related. This forces employers to show some non-work-related exposure to avoid liability,
Nebraska has not passed any sort of COVID-19 presumption for any workers.
Earlier in the pandemic, when Eugene Scalia was Labor Secretary during the Trump administration, the Department of Labor implemented rules that it made it harder for employees to track workplace COVID exposure. I can’t argue that a thumb on the scale for workers/labor is better than a thumb on the scale for management/capital. But the federal government needs to be more aggressive in enforcing workplace safety rules.
Companies took these measures before the term “essential worker” entered widespread usage and applied to retail employees. One silver lining to the COVID crisis is the newfound respect gained by retail, delivery, warehouse and other service employees like fast food workers.
First responders, in Nebraska and in many other states, can receive “mental-mental” workers’ compensation benefits. Mental-mental injuries are mental injuries without a physical injury. All other workers need to show some physical injury to have mental trauma from a workplace incident covered by workers’ compensation.