Workers' compensation Workplace exposures

‘Much more must be done’: Report criticizes New York state’s workers’ comp system amid pandemic

New York bus driver
Photo: Xackery Irving/iStockphoto

New York — Fewer than 10% of the estimated 250,000 employees who contracted COVID-19 while on the job last year in New York state filed for workers’ compensation benefits, and fewer than 1% have received a hearing, according to a recent report from the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health.

The report, System Failure: Essential Workers and COVID-19 in New York State, notes that around 21,000 employees in the state filed for workers’ comp benefits after contracting COVID-19. Between 1,000 and 2,000 of those employees have gotten a hearing.

Occupational disease claims, according to the report, involve the lowest filing rates among workplace injury and illnesses. According to some estimates, that claim rate may be around the “low single digits,” similar to the COVID-19 filing rates. This can be attributed to, at least in part, to “poor recognition of the relationship between work and the illness, as well as the system’s poor track record in recognizing and compensating occupational diseases.”

Among its recommendations, NYCOSH calls on the state legislature to enact two bills – S. 1241 and S. 1721. The former would include exposure to COVID-19 as an occupational disease, while the latter would direct the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board to provide translation of documents and interpretation services.

The committee calls on the board to also:

  • Invest in a campaign that informs employees of their potential rights to workers’ comp benefits if they contract the virus.
  • Schedule an initial hearing for each of its pending cases (not limited to COVID-19 cases).
  • Expand the types of employer activity considered retaliation under the workers’ comp law, and increase penalties for discrimination and retaliation.

“We simply cannot have tens of thousands of workers get sick on the job and yet lack medical benefits and protection against lost wages,” Robert Grey, author of the report and a managing partner at the law firm Grey & Grey LLP, said in an NYCOSH press release. “Much more must be done to make sure that workers are aware that the system exists and what benefits it provides.

“It is also critically important that the state agency take down the language, education and technical obstacles that prevent workers from obtaining benefits, and that it act much more proactively to do what it was designed to do: deliver compensation to working people who get hurt or sick because of their job.”

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