The Minnesota legislature has passed legislation that significantly shifts the burden of proof for certain workers within first responder and healthcare related industries who have received a COVID-19 diagnosis.
On April 7, 2020, the Minnesota legislature passed HF-4537 with bipartisan support and Governor Walz signed the bill soon after. The full text of the bill can be found at:
The essence of the bill creates a legal presumption that any first responders or health care workers contracting COVID-19 are entitled to benefits as an occupational hazard. Under current statute, an employee who alleges an occupational disease is required to produce evidence of a direct causal connection to their workplace activities – typically medical documentation noting a substantial contributing cause. With this new legislation, the burden will now be on the employer to demonstrate that the diagnosis of COVID-19 is not connected to their workplace activities.
This presumption of causation is effective for workers contracting the disease beginning April 8, 2020; and the provision is currently set to sunset on May 1, 2021. The applicable date “of contracting the disease” is the day the worker was unable to work as a result of a diagnosis of COVID-19, or unable to work due to symptoms that were later diagnosed as COVID-19. For the presumption to apply, there must be a positive laboratory testing of COVID-19, or if testing was unavailable, a diagnosis by a medical provider.
The presumption shifting applies to a broad category of workers, per the bill text, including anyone employed as a “firefighter; paramedic; nurse or health care worker, correctional officer, or security counselor employed by the state or a political subdivision at a corrections, detention, or secure treatment facility; emergency medical technician; a health care provider, nurse, or assistive employee employed in a health care, home care, or long-term care setting, with direct COVID-19 patient care or ancillary work in COVID-19 patient units; and workers required to provide child care to first responders and health care workers under Executive Order 20-02 and Executive Order 20-19.”
In practical terms, the significance of the legislation remains to be seen. One can speculate that its relevancy will most likely come into play in borderline cases, most obviously in the case of childcare workers or those providing indirect or part-time care who may otherwise have had difficulty prevailing under the ordinary occupational disease standard.
Employers will need to carefully consider each individual claim and its likely relationship to that employee’s work activities in determining whether to challenge the pandemic presumption. Questions to consider include the timing of the diagnosis, other likely outside exposures and the length of any such exposure, and any proof of similar diagnosis by those to whom the employee was directly exposed within the course and scope of employment. This legislation acknowledges that there is a certain care group within the community that should be signaled out as particularly vulnerable but does not eliminate all potential defenses, where appropriate.
As with any new legislation, the exact parameters of the legislation can only be fully understood in the coming months as cases proceed through the legal system.