Essential Workers Deserve Workers Compensation Benefits

(BISMARCK, ND) — Tomorrow at 9:00 a.m., the House Industry, Business, and Labor Committee will hear testimony on HB 1433, which would allow essential workers to make a claim for workers’ compensation benefits if they contracted COVID-19 at their places of work. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Zac Ista (D-Grand Forks).

If passed, HB 1433 would extend Workforce Safety Insurance (WSI) to qualifying essential workers. Essential workers include law enforcement, firefighters, health care workers, educators, and childcare workers. These individuals have been key to maintaining the availability of essential services during the pandemic.

“2020 was a year unlike any other,” Rep. Ista said. “Through it all, we relied on a small group of our fellow North Dakotans to keep us safe, to keep us healthy, to keep us fed, to keep the lights on, and to keep our state running.”

Normally, WSI coverage only applies to physical injuries, and does not extend to catching a contagious disease at work. It’s hard to determine where a person contracted the disease. However, because of the unique situation caused by the pandemic, the bill creates a rebuttable presumption that the applicant was infected on the job.

“These workers found themselves on the front lines of the war against COVID-19.  Many contracted the disease. Some fell seriously ill. A tragic number lost their lives,” Rep. Ista continued. “As state leaders, I believe we have an obligation to recognize those realities not only through our words of thanks and praise, but also through our actions.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of early December of 2020, at least 17 states have adopted some sort of COVID-related workers’ compensation protections.