Fedweek

Covid-Related FECA Claims Could Be Hard to Prove, Says CRS An employee generally must demonstrate a causal relationship between a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and his/her employment in a related FECA claim.

Federal employees, especially those not in positions deemed to be at high risk of exposure to the Coronavirus in the workplace, could have difficulty in getting FECA injury compensation benefits if they contract covid-19, the Congressional Research Service has said.

As in all cases in which an employee says an illness is work-related for FCA purposes, “the employee must demonstrate a causal relationship between the disease and his/her employment,” it says. That determination is “based on the case’s factual and medical background.”

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“Due to the nature of COVID-19 transmission, including the lack of complete understanding about how Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is transmitted by asymptomatic individuals and how long the virus can remain viable on a variety of surfaces, there is concern that this could prove difficult for some employees, preventing them from receiving FECA benefits,” it says.

Under Office of Workers Compensation Policy guidance, “in the case of high-risk employment, the factual and medical background would include the physician’s recognition that the employee is engaged in high-risk employment that included exposure to COVID-19 while in federal employment.”

It says that high-risk employment for that purpose is defined as the job requiring “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.

It also says that under OWCP is creating a list of occupational codes and/or job series, including the geographic locations where the high-risk determination has been flagged by the agency but “this list has not been made available to the public.”

If an employee engaged in high-risk employment files a claim, and the employer supports the claim, OWCP will “accept that the exposure to COVID-19 was proximately caused by the nature of the employment” and authorize continuation of pay for up to 45 days, the report says.

However, employees not engaged in such employment will be required to submit a factual statement and any evidence regarding their exposure. If the employer supports the claim that the exposure occurred, continuation of pay will be authorized for up to 45 days, CRS said.

Proposals have been introduced in Congress to create a presumption of eligibility—meaning they would not have to demonstrate a causal link—for occupations including health care; first responders; law enforcement officers including corrections officers; TSA officers; all employees of the USPS, VA and Indian Health Service; and all employees carrying out duties that require substantial contact with the public or whose duties otherwise include a recognized risk of exposure.

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2020 Federal Employees Handbook