First Responders and Front-Line Health Care Workers in Arkansas Now Eligible for Workers Compensation for COVID-19 Contracted in Line of Duty

April 15, 2020

By: Amanda G. Orcutt, Lauren Grinder

Category: Coronavirus (COVID-19), Health Care

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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson issued Executive Order 20-19 on April 14, 2020, temporarily expanding workers compensation for certain healthcare workers exposed to COVID-19. This provides financial relief to certain healthcare workers who cannot work because they are sick from COVID-19, if they can link their COVID-19 diagnosis to exposure in the line of duty. The Governor ordered:

  1.    A first responder or front-line health care worker is eligible to receive workers compensation for COVID-19 contracted in the line of duty, even if they did not contract the virus in a hospital or sanatorium. Arkansas law ordinarily limits compensation to contagious or infectious diseases contracted in those settings. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-601(e)(1)(B)(2).[1]

  2.    A first responder or front-line health care worker is eligible to receive compensation for COVID-19, even though it is a disease to which the general public is exposed. Arkansas law ordinarily bars health care workers from receiving compensation for ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-601(e)(1)(B)(3).

  3.    A first responder or front-line health care worker’s exposure to COVID-19 in the line of duty is an “unusual and unpredicted incident” under Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-114(b)(1), making COVID-19 a pulmonary and respiratory accident that is the major cause of injury, illness, or death suffered by a health care worker. This makes COVID-19 a compensable injury for health care workers, unlike most other pulmonary or respiratory accidents.

  4.    First responders and front-line health care workers who test positive for COVID-19 may be eligible for workers compensation if they can demonstrate a causal connection between their diagnosis of COVID-19 and exposure to COVID-19 as a result of their employment or occupation. There is no compensation for COVID-19 contracted outside the line of duty. Arkansas law requires that a causal connection between the occupation or employment and the occupational disease be established by preponderance of the evidence, in order to receive compensation. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-601(e)(1)(B).

The Executive Order does not define “first responder” or “front-line health care worker.” Based on the purpose announced by the Governor—to reduce the risk of economic hardship and physical wellbeing due to exposure to COVID-19 “in the line of duty”—it appears application of the Executive Order may be limited to those health care providers actually providing care and treatment to patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

[1] The Executive Order refers to subsection c, but it is clear based on the substance of the Governor’s directives that the relevant subsection is subsection e.

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