Most of New York State remains in strict lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But workers deemed essential, such as healthcare workers and grocery store employees, remain on the job. Despite safety measures to minimize the risk of infection, some essential workers are still getting sick.

But if you think that New York’s essential workers who have been forced off the job due to COVID-19 are getting approved quickly for workers’ comp, think again. Employers and their workers’ compensation insurance companies are asking applicants to prove that they contracted the disease at work. Some nurses are even being asked to prove which specific patient gave them COVID-19, or the moment a personal protective equipment breach exposed them.

In a sense, this is standard operating procedure in New York. The state workers’ compensation law puts the burden on the applicant to show the connection between their injury or illness and their work duties. But there is an exception for “occupational diseases,” or illnesses commonly contracted at work in certain industries.

Another state has taken action

In California, the governor has issued an order that temporarily shifts the burden of proof from workers with COVID-19 to their employers. For now, workers in that state are presumed to have caught the disease on the job, unless their employers can prove otherwise. Union leaders are calling for a similar measure for New York, and a bill in the State Legislature would make COVID-19 an occupational disease for essential workers.

Even if you have been sickened by a condition included on the occupational disease list, or if a loved one has died of one, getting approved for workers’ compensation or survivors’ benefits can be challenging. Help from an attorney who practices workers’ compensation law can significantly improve your odds on appeal.