LOS ANGELES - Thousands of federal employees who developed COVID-19 while performing their duties are entitled to workers' compensation coverage pursuant to the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA), according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
As of Nov. 16, the government agreed to pay injury compensation benefits to nearly 3,500 federal employees and has granted death benefits to survivors of 14 employees, a Department of Labor spokesperson told FOX TV Stations.
The US Department of Labor Building on March 26, 2020, in Washington, DC
“There have been 6,620 COVID-19 FECA claims, of which 3,477 have been accepted, 339 were denied, 191 have been withdrawn, and 2,613 are unadjudicated,” the spokesperson said. “There have been 91 COVID-19 death claims, of which 14 have been accepted, nine have been withdrawn, and 68 are unadjudicated.”
The last public report issued by U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) was released in July. The inspector general's audit found that as of June 16, the division had received nearly 3,000 COVID-19 claims, including 48 death claims, and paid out approximately $30,000 in medical benefits and compensation. A total of 889 claims were accepted.
The DOL noted that is difficult to determine the time or method of COVID-19 virus transmission, so workers with higher-risk employment, including first responders, law enforcement and front-line medical personnel, will fall under Chapter 2-0805-6 of the FECA Procedure Manual.
“In such cases, there is an implicit recognition that a higher likelihood exists of infection due to high-risk employment,” DOL said. “Federal workers in such positions routinely encounter situations that may lead to infection by contact with sneezes, droplet infection, bodily secretions, and surfaces on which the COVID-19 virus may reside.”
The claims correlate to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases among federal workers and the general public in the United States. There had been over 12 million cases of the virus and over 260,000 deaths in the U.S. as of Nov. 25, according to data from John Hopkins University.
“The pandemic caused by the COVID-19 viral disease is impacting how we live and work across the country, and around the world. The U.S. Department of Labor is committed to providing support to Federal employees during this difficult time,” the Department of Labor said.
Joe Mansour, a workers compensation specialist with the American Federation of Government Employees, said the compensation process for infected workers has been erratic, with confusing instructions and mixed messages, according to the Associated Press.
Mansour said he has fielded complaints from employees in positions considered high-risk, who are still being asked to provide detailed doctor's explanations despite the promise of an expedited process.
“It hasn't been terrible, but it hasn't been as easy as they claim,” Mansour told the Associated Press. “The VA has been really terrible, but the TSA and the Bureau of Prisons have improved tremendously.”
The FECA program covers about 2.7 million federal employees. If an employee’s claim is accepted for COVID-19, the injured worker is entitled to receive all medical services, appliances, or supplies which a qualified physician prescribes or recommends and which OWCP considers necessary to treat the work-related injury, according to the Department of Labor.
FECA provides medical benefits for treatment of COVID-19 as well as any resulting consequential conditions. The injured worker is also eligible for continuation of pay for up to 45 days if the person is disabled as a result of COVID-19.
If disability continues beyond 45 days, the injured worker may submit additional claim, Form CA-7, Claim for Compensation. Disability compensation is payable at 2/3 or 3/4 of the injured worker’s average weekly injury earnings depending on whether he or she has eligible dependents.
For accepted death claims, FECA provides for payment of compensation to eligible survivors based on a percentage of the average weekly earnings of the employee according to a statutory formula found here which varies depending on the presence of a surviving spouse, children, and in some cases other dependents. A funeral expense of $800 is also authorized by the statute.