Legal Edge: The worker’s compensation exclusivity rule and what it means for COVID-19


LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – There are common misconceptions surrounding workers’ ability to bring a case against their employer if they are injured or become sick on the job. Local attorney Brian Waldman and WLNS’ Chivon Kloepfer break down worker’s compensation laws in this Legal Edge.

Workers compensation calls are some of the most common calls that Waldman’s firm receives, he said.

“Someone will call and say ‘hey my employer put me on a machine and removed the guard and I was injured,’ or ‘they put me in a position where I wasn’t trained and I was injured by certain chemicals.'”

Waldman said that the only claim you can bring for incidents where an employer was negligent or at fault is a worker’s compensation claim.

This is called the worker’s compensation exclusivity rule, which bars a liability/negligence claim against an employer or coworker.

“The logic behind this rule when it was passed is; we want employees or workers to get certain things even if they’re at fault. We want them to be able to get those things quickly without long, drawn-out litigation,” said Waldman.

In theory, this rule is supposed to give workers a quick way to receive reimbursement for on-the-job injuries.

In return for speedy compensation they give up the ability to claim liability against their employer.

This rule was put into place via a 1969 law known as the Worker’s Disability Compensation act of 1969.

The act says:

“The right to the recovery of benefits as provided in this act shall be the employee’s exclusive remedy against the employer for a personal injury or occupational disease. The only exception to this exclusive remedy is an intentional tort. An intentional tort shall exist only when an employee is injured as a result of a deliberate act of the employer and the employer specifically intended an injury.”

Essentially, this law aims to make it easy and quick for injured workers to receive benefits. It shields employers from claims except when the employer intentionally set out to injure a worker, or if the employer does not have worker’s compensation insurance.

How does this translate to COVID-19?

Waldman says that if an employee becomes ill with COVID-19 they have the ability to file for worker’s compensation benefits, but they would have to prove that they contracted COVID on the job. Some states now have provisions that remove this requirement, but Michigan does not.

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