Our nation’s resilient workforce of Federal Employees has stepped up with courage in a time that we desperately needed them. Each of the Healthcare Workers, Field Agents, Law Enforcement Officers, Letter Carriers, and the thousands of employees who have worked tirelessly during this crisis have given stability to a shaken country. Many of those men and women work in high-risk situations that place them in contact with the novel COVID-19, or they are working in modified stations that exceed their medical limitations/restrictions.
As we approach the two-month mark of the COVID-19 quarantine, we are monitoring the long and short-term provisions added to the OWCP system in response to a strained workforce. We need to be mindful of these additions and modifications in order to best navigate the claims process. Federal employees can utilize Federal Worker’s Compensation if they have been hurt on the job in a traumatic event or the injury or illness was caused over the course of employment – including COVID-19. Keep in mind that it may require a lot of detail and effort to be approved for an OWCP claim, which is why we want to help you understand what the filing process might entail during this crisis.
Remote Appointments with Physicians
Across the nation, access to healthcare has been drastically hindered due to the heavy focus on treatment and containment of COVID-19 patients. Regardless of your injury or medical condition, tele-conferencing or videoconferencing with physicians is suggested. Virtual appointments may increase your options for treatment, as it would continue to prioritize the health and safety of you and those around you. A medical report generated from a virtual appointment is sufficient if it is signed by a Physician. Ask your medical provider if they offer tele-conferencing as an option for treatment if you feel like you are stuck or waiting an excessive amount of time for proper care.
High-Risk vs Low-Risk Environments
The DOL has created new procedures to specifically address COVID-19 related claims. In a recent bulletin the DOL mentions, “Federal employees who are required to have in-person and close proximity interactions with the public on a frequent basis – such as members of law enforcement, first responders, and front-line medical and public health personnel will be considered to be in high-risk employment.” Proving the claimant was working in a High-risk environment will be of more importance than identifying the exact day or time the claimant contracted the novel coronavirus. If the claimant has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the Medical evidence must show, based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the diagnosed condition is causally related to employment conditions.
How do I pay for COVID-19 Testing?
If you believe you have contracted COVID-19 while in the performance of your job duties, Step 1 should be to receive an accurate diagnosis to support your claim. The OWCP will authorize COVID-19 testing if the employee is working in high-risk employment or has a confirmed exposure at work. Be advised that both options require the support of the employer, and the OWCP would not be obligated to pay for the test if the results were negative or if the claim is denied. If the case is accepted, OWCP will pay for the test through a reimbursement.
Expect Delays from the DOL
Federal and State Departments of Labor across the country have been faced with an unprecedented amount of traffic. On a typical week, the New York state DOL may receive an average of 50,000 calls. The last week of March, they received over 8.2 million calls regarding Unemployment applications. In the past couple of months, DOL websites have crashed due to unusually high traffic. To combat the influx of claims, the OWCP has created a COVID-19 Task Force to support claims examiners and assist with all COVID-19 claims. For the time being, regardless of your injury or medical condition, expect 1-2 months of delay on top of the typical timeframe for an OWCP approval. This means that if you have a potential Workers’ Compensation claim, you would be benefitted by taking actions to submit the claim properly at the initial level and not be burdened by any denials or appeals that would further delay the process.
Despite these delays, this is still a great time to apply for OWCP Federal Workers’ Compensation. While the COVID-19 quarantine may extend the timeline for approval, getting the assistance you need can be critical to your health and recovery. Harris Federal Employees Law Firm would be happy to guide your through the claims process if you require assistance filing with the OWCP. Contact our firm to explore your options and to take confident steps to obtain your federal benefits.