Rep: Classify COVID-19 infections as ‘work-related’ injuries for front-line employees

Politics - Government
Rep Anastasia Williams 8-17-2016_345879

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A veteran state lawmaker is calling on Gov. Gina Raimondo to issue an executive order requiring that all front-line workers directly affected by coronavirus will have the illness presumed to be a work-related injury.

House Labor Committee Chairwoman Anastasia Williams formally made the request on Monday in an email to the governor’s office, including a draft copy of the executive order. She told WPRI 12 she will introduce legislation with the same provisions if the governor does not take action herself.

Under Williams’ proposal, the front-line workers category should include public safety personnel, government workers, janitors, public transit employees, grocery staff, retail clerks, truck and freight drivers, among others. Any of those workers who “contract, have symptoms of or otherwise become affected” with coronavirus “shall have their medical condition or incapacity to work presumed to be work-related,” the draft order says.

“These selfless workers deserve to know that if the worst should happen and they become infected with COVID-19, that we recognize their sacrifice for our greater good, and their infection and recuperation should be deemed work-related,” Williams, D-Providence, said in a statement.

In addition, Williams argues that public safety employees who are “incapacitated or unable to perform their duties as a result of the COVID-19 infection or exposure” shall have the time they spend hospitalized or quarantined classified as on-duty time, rather than being required to use paid time off such as sick days or vacation.

She also wants to ensure information about any related COVID-related work claims is not shared with federal immigration authorities, noting that some front-line workers are undocumented immigrants.

State Rep. Evan Shanley, D-Warwick, said he supports Williams’ proposal.

“Immediate action is required to support these courageous workers by affording them the basic protections afforded to injured workers under the Rhode Island Workers Compensation Act,” Shanley said in a statement. “The least we can do is tell these workers that their medical bills and families will be taken care of in the event they contract COVID-19.”

The proposed executive order is just one of the ideas that have surfaced in recent days to support front-line workers who are dealing directly with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said last week he and a group of Democratic senators want to give essential employees a federally funded “hazard pay” bump of up to $25,000 as part of the next disaster relief bill, an amount he said would be the equivalent of a $13-an-hour increase. Raimondo has said she hopes Congress passes such a proposal.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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