In front of the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, the Ohio Chamber testified as an interested party to voice our concerns over the As Passed by the House version of HB 606. While the Chamber supports many aspects of the legislation, we asked the committee to remove a workers’ compensation presumption that was added to the bill on the House floor because its inclusion will prove harmful to Ohio Chamber members.
The presumption, which applies to employees at grocery stores, convenience stores and some restaurants, flips the burden of proof for determining workers’ compensation eligibility to employers. This means rather than requiring employees to show their COVID-19 diagnosis was work related, employees in those industries are guaranteed workers’ compensation benefits without any evidence their COVID-19 diagnosis arose during their employment.
The Ohio Chamber opposes this amendment and asked the committee to strike it from the bill because we believe the presumption is unnecessary since current Ohio law makes employees who have contracted COVID-19 eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. In fact, the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, as of June 16, has approved 150 claims for COVID-19 while only denying 60 claims.
Due to the high percentage of claims already being approved, we see no reason to amend the current process that is already providing an adequate remedy for the employee, an opportunity for employers to push back against claims they believe are not work related and an Industrial Commission hearing when those parties disagree.
The Ohio Chamber also asked the committee to remove the presumption because it becomes more challenging to assure workers’ compensation benefits are only paid out to individuals harmed at work. Due to the presumption, an eligibility determination is made without any consideration of whether employees may have traveled abroad, visited a state with a higher number of coronavirus cases or if they failed to maintain social distancing standards away from work.
A failure to verify that a COVID-19 diagnosis is work related prior to giving an individual time off benefits or covering their medical treatments – which the presumption requires – ignores the purpose of Ohio’s workers’ compensation system and sends employer dollars to individuals who may not have contracted the disease at work.
The Ohio Chamber continues advocating for the enactment of coronavirus legal protections for employers since they are a needed part of properly restoring Ohio’s economy. However, we will push back against proposals that expose our members to unreasonable liability elsewhere, which is why the Ohio Senate should remove the workers’ compensation presumption before advancing HB 606 out of committee.