Philadelphia Essential Employee Work Injury Lawyer
As soon as the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it has come to be known, was first discovered in the United States, the state and federal governments have been fighting to keep up with the rapid spread of the virus. As of late May, there have been over 1.7 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and over 100,000 people have died from the virus. In Pennsylvania specifically, there have been over 70,000 cases and over 5,100 deaths.
In response to the grave threat posed by the novel coronavirus, most state governors sprung into action, implementing strict stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Pennsylvania was no exception. In mid-March, Governor Wolf signed an executive order requiring all residents stay at home unless they were leaving for a pre-approved reason. Among the reasons Pennsylvanians are permitted to leave their home was to work, provided they are considered an “essential employee.” For essential employees, staying at home may not be an option, as employers may require them to come into work, despite the serious risks involved in doing so. Not surprisingly, Philadelphia essential workers have contracted COVID-19 at a much higher rate than the rest of the Pennsylvania population.
Employers have an obligation to maintain a safe workplace for employees and customers, and to follow all Commonwealth and CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If an employee catches COVID-19 while at work, they may be entitled to compensation, either through a Philadelphia workers’ compensation claim or a Pennsylvania personal injury case. At MyPhillyLawyer, we represent essential workers who have contracted COVID-19. Our dedicated team of injury advocates has extensive experience handling all types of Philadelphia workplace injury cases, including those involving the spread of communicable diseases.
Essential Worker Statistics:
Across the United States, there are between 49 to 62 million essential workers, representing between 34 to 43 percent of the total workforce.
Essential workers spend, on average, 55 percent of their time in close proximity with others.
Many essential workers earn less than the national average of $18.58 per hour.
12 percent of essential workers do not have health insurance
COVID-19 Statistics in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is one of the largest and most population-dense states in the country. Not surprisingly, the state ranks sixth in the total number of COVID-19 cases and fifth in the number of COVID-19 related deaths: (as of 5/27/2020)
- Total number of cases: 72,876
- Total number of deaths: 5,194
- Total number of tests administered: 426,011
- Age breakdown:
- 0 to 4: less than one percent
- 5 to 12: less than one percent
- 13 to 18: two percent
- 19 to 24: six percent
- 25 to 49: 37 percent
- 50 to 64: 25 percent
- 65 and older: 29 percent
- The counties with the most COVID-19 cases are:
- Philadelphia County: 21,738 cases
- Montgomery County: 6,598 cases
- Delaware County: 6,295 cases
- Bucks County: 4,916 cases
- Berks County: 3,919 cases
- Lehigh County: 3,676 cases
- Lancaster County: 2,985 cases
- The counties with the most COVID-19 deaths are:
- Philadelphia County: 1,243 deaths
- Montgomery County: 635 deaths
- Delaware County: 524 deaths
- Bucks County: 461 deaths
- Berks County: 291 deaths
- Lancaster County: 283 deaths
- Chester County: 252 deaths
Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/usa/pennsylvania/ (as of 5/27/20)
General COVID-19 Information
The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a contagious respiratory disease that is spread through the through the air as well as through touch. The disease is easily spread through small, invisible droplets that are released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. COVID-19 can also spread when someone touches an infected surface and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
- The Symptoms of COVID-19
COVID-19 symptoms of the disease are similar to those of the flu, including a dry cough, fever and difficulty breathing. Some patients have also reported a loss of smell, general aches and pains, nasal congestion, a runny nose, sore throat and diarrhea. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should reach isolate themselves from others and immediately reach out to a healthcare professional to determine whether they should be tested.
- At-Risk Populations
Most of those who are young and health will recover within a few weeks. However, even healthy individuals may need to be hospitalized for a few days to a week before recovering. The primary concern presented by the virus is that it presents an increased risk of complication for those over 60 years of age, the immunocompromised, as well as individuals with certain pre-existing health conditions, including:
- Chronic lung conditions
- Serious heart conditions
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Staying Safe and Staying Well
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that, to combat the spread of the disease, everyone:
- Stay at home and self-isolate if they are feeling unwell;
- Cover their nose and mouth with a disposable tissue when coughing or sneezing;
- Wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with liquid soap and water; and
- Follow social distancing protocol by avoiding close contact (within six feet) with those who may have the virus.
- Wear a mask to prevent the spread of the virus, even if you do not have symptoms
- Pennsylvania’s Response to COVID-19
The decision of how to handle school and business closures was left up to the governors of each state. Governor Wolf has signed a series of executive orders relating to the COVID-19 crisis, which can be found here. Below is a list of links to various websites tracking COVID-19 and the state’s response:
- Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website on the coronavirus in Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania state government press releases
- Updated Pennsylvania stay-at-home order
- Pennsylvania’s phased re-opening plan
- Learn More about COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis evolves daily, and so do the suggestions on how to best mitigate against its spread. To stay on top of all updates, occasionally visit the following links:
Essential Workers in Philadelphia
The COVID-19 rapidly became a serious threat to the safety of all Pennsylvanians. In response, Governor Wolf took swift action, signing an executive order in mid-March that required residents stay home unless they were leaving for a pre-approved reason. As a result of the stay-at-home order, schools were closed, as were most businesses and government offices. However, under the Governor’s order, those businesses that perform “life-sustaining business activities” were allowed to remain open.
Necessary employees of those organizations that provide “life-sustaining business activities” are considered essential employees. When it comes to defining what constitutes an organization that provides life-sustaining activities, the Governor’s order refers to a list of critical infrastructure sectors assembled by the Department of Homeland Security. A few of the more common examples of employees who are considered essential employees, separated by industry, are:
- Workers involved in the maintenance of communications technology, including internet and broadband service providers.
- Workers who support radio, television, and the media, including reporters and technicians.
- Installation, maintenance and repair technicians that establish, support or repair service as needed.
- Information technology workers
Food and agriculture industry
- Workers supporting grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail establishments that sell food products.
- Restaurant workers
- Employees of food manufacturers, including food processing, slaughter houses, and beverage production facilities.
- Farmworkers, including those employed in the manufacture of animal feed and veterinary drugs, truck drivers and other delivery employees.
- Any position that provides COVID-19 testing, including workers who are researching vaccines and other related tests.
- Caregivers, including doctors, nurses, physician assistants, psychologists, pharmacists, occupational therapists, social workers, pathologists.
- Hospital and laboratory personnel, including support staff such as accountants, administrators, food service, housekeeping, information technology, nutritionists and respiratory therapists.
- Workers in other medical facilities, including ambulatory health and surgical centers, blood banks, mental health clinics, outpatient rehabilitation facilities, home health care, hospice, and residential psychiatric facilities.
- Manufacturers, technicians and warehouse operators, distributors of medical equipment, including personal protective equipment, medical gases, pharmaceuticals, blood and blood products, vaccines, testing materials, laboratory supplies, cleaning and sanitizing, disinfecting or sterilization supplies and tissue and paper towel products.
- Public health workers including those who compile, model, analyze and communicate public health information
- Security workers for other essential businesses.
- Workers who provide food, shelter and other services to those in need.
- Police officers.
- 911 operators.
- Emergency medical technicians (EMTs)
- Other emergency management employees, including fire fighters and corrections officers.
- Sanitation workers
- Road and bridge inspectors.
- Construction workers involved in projects related to necessary infrastructure.
- Waste removal employees
- Workers who support the operation, maintenance and public safety of state parks, forests, wildlife management areas, water supply protection lands, and other critical natural resources.
- Logistics workers.
- Mass transit operators and support staff.
- Maritime transportation workers.
- Hazmat truck drivers.
- Postal employees.
- Moving company employees.
- Airline workers.
- Maintenance positions.
- Employees who work to provide electricity.
- Nuclear power plant employees
- Petroleum workers, including those involved in product storage, refining, drilling and offshore operations.
- Natural gas workers
- Employees needed to operate and maintain public and private drinking water and wastewater/drainage infrastructure, including operational staff, repair workers and chemical disinfectant suppliers.
Other essential employment positions
- Election employees
- Building inspectors
- Security staff who work with other essential businesses
- Weather forecasters
- Hotel workers
- Critical government workers
- Construction Workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction).
- Workers in recovery housing
- Professional services, including:
- Human resources
- Commercial retail stores that supply other essential businesses
- Workers at places of worship
- Bank employees
- Chemical manufacturers
- Defense contractors
A complete list of the Department of Homeland Security essential businesses and organizations can be found here, and the most current Industry Operation Guidance, issued by Governor Wolf, can be found here.
What Are an Employer’s Responsibilities to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19?
While many Pennsylvania employers were required to close their doors under Governor Wolf’s stay-at-home order, essential businesses were permitted to remain open. However, those businesses that remained open must follow the guidelines set forth by both the Centers for Disease Control as well as by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Specifically, businesses must take the following precautions to ensure the safety of both customers as well as employees:
- Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch areas frequently and continuing to regularly clean all other areas of the building;
- Implementing and enforcing proper social distancing measures;
- Establishing and implementing a plan in the event a business is exposed to COVID-19:
- Identifying employees who were in close contact with a person with a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19;
- Taking each employee’s temperature before they enter the workplace;
- Sending home those employees who have a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher;
- Informing employees that they must notify a supervisor and stay home if they have symptoms of COVID-19;
- Advising that sick employees follow all CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19;
- Preventing large groups from entering the business;
- Limiting the number of employees in common areas, such as break rooms;
- Conducting as many meetings as possible virtually;
- Providing all employees access to soap, water and hand sanitizer; and
- Providing non-medical masks to all employees.
Unfortunately, not all employers followed the guidance from the CDC and the Commonwealth. This resulted in employees being exposed to unnecessary risks, as evidenced by the high rate of essential workers who have tested positive for COVID-19. Essential employees in Philadelphia who have contracted COVID-19 should reach out to a dedicated Pennsylvania personal injury to discuss their options.
Compensation for Philly Employees Diagnosed with COVID-19
Essential employees who contracted COVID-19 from their place of employment may be entitled to monetary damages. However, certain complications can arise in a Philadelphia workplace injury case, including those involving a COVID-19 diagnosis. Primarily, this is due to the “exclusive remedy” provision of the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law.
As a general rule, when an employee is injured in a Pennsylvania workplace accident, or they contract an occupational disease such as COVID-19, there are two types of claims that they can pursue. The first is a workers’ compensation claim. A workers’ compensation claim is a means for an injured employee to quickly obtain limited benefits after being suffering an injury on the job. The Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system is a no-fault system, meaning than an employee will not need to prove that their employer – or anyone else – was negligent in order to recover benefits. However, the drawback to these claims is that they do not allow employees to recover non-economic damages, such as compensation for their pain and suffering. In cases involving an employee who contracts COVID-19, non-economic damages may be substantial. Thus, employs may not want to leave this option on the table.
The second type of injury claim available to a Pennsylvania essential employee is a personal injury claim. For the most part, there are no limits on the type of damages that can be awarded in a personal injury claim (except for in medical malpractice claims and claims against government entities). However, to successfully bring in a personal injury claim, an injured worker must prove that the named defendant was negligent, and that the defendant’s negligence resulted in the worker’s injuries. In other words, this is a fault-based system.
Injured workers in Philadelphia do not necessarily have a choice in which type of claim to pursue. Typically, when an employee is injured on the job, if their employer has obtained workers’ compensation insurance, the employee’s exclusive remedy against their employer is a workers’ compensation claim. Thus, absent an exception, an employee who is injured on the job can file for workers’ compensation, but cannot pursue a personal injury case against their employer. However, the exclusive-remedy provision does not preclude an injured employee from pursuing a personal injury case against a third party. Third parties may include individuals, independent contractors, or other businesses such as vendors, suppliers or service providers. Similarly, the sole remedy provision of the workers’ compensation act does not apply if the worker’s injury was the result of an employers’ willful or intentional actions.
Essential employees who have contracted a case of COVID-19 may have either a workers’ compensation claim or a personal injury claim. However, the nuances of these claims can be complex. Thus, any essential worker who tested positive for COVID-19 should reach out to a dedicated Philadelphia injury lawyer to learn more about their rights and what options they have to pursue a claim of compensation.
Do You Need a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer?
These challenging times raise many questions, especially for those who have contracted COVID-19. At MyPhillyLawyer, we represent those who have been seriously injured in all types of workers’ compensation and personal injury accidents, including workplace accidents and illnesses, slip and fall accidents, and instances of medical malpractice. Our skilled Philadelphia injury attorneys are comfortable both at the negotiation table as well as in court and will aggressively pursue favorable settlement offers whenever possible. However, as skilled trial attorneys, we will not hesitate to take a case to trial if the other side is unwilling to engage in fair negotiations.
The lawyers and staff of MyPhillyLawyer will be working remotely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as the health and safety of our clients, attorneys and staff members are of upmost importance. Rest assured, our operation has not been interrupted and we are still fully available to help you with legal assistance. Please contact us if you have any questions. To learn more about how we can help you recover compensation for the injuries you have sustained, call 215-254-6391, or toll-free 866-907-2231.