The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission and District of Columbia Office of Workers’ Compensation are not likely to view the contraction of COVID-19 as arising out of and in the course of employment for employees not subject to a unique risk for this illness.
To be sure, the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act specifically notes that disease or infection may predicate a claim for accidental injury.13 Further, caselaw confirms that a compensable injury may be found whenever an accidental physiological change is found to have arisen out of and in the course of employment.14
However, idiopathic claims are not compensable. An “idiopathic condition” is a condition that is personal to the claimant and unrelated to the employment that exposes the employee to risk from injury.15 An injury that is precipitated by the claimant’s ideopathy is not compensable unless the idiopathic event was aggravated or triggered by some facet of the employment, or the employment contributed to the hazard created by the idiopathic event.16
Unless there are some extenuating personal circumstances, the Commission is likely to find COVID-19 claims compensable for employees who are at an increased risk of contraction of this illness, such as health care employees or emergency medical personnel. Many of our clients in these fields are approaching this situation by requiring their employees to use personal time when taking time off for screening of COVID-19, but likely accepting those claims under workers’ compensation when their employees test positive for COVID-19.
The Commission will also likely consider employees who are required to travel and who contract COVID-19 as being subject to a unique risk. Those employees who contract COVID-19 will have an increased likelihood of their claims being found compensable.
13 MD WC Act Section 9-101(b).
14 Union Mining Co v. Blank, 181 Md. 62, 28 A.2d 568 (1942) (contracting typhoid fever by drinking contaminated water supplied by the employer is compensable).
15 J Norman Geipe Inc v. Collett, 172 Md. 165, 190 A. 836 (1937).
16 Watson v. Grimm, 200 Md. 461, 90 A.2d 180 (1952).