The Minnesota Legislature on Tuesday passed a bill that aims to clear barriers for frontline workers who contract Covid-19 and seek workers’ compensation.
Under the bill, health care workers, first responders, and child care workers that contract Covid-19 can presume they picked up the disease at their workplace. This removes the burden of proof from the employees, said state Rep. Dan Wolgamott, author of the bill.
“If these workers contract Covid-19 it’s presumed that it happened on the job. The workers don’t have to go to extraordinary measures to prove that they got it on the job,” said Wolgamott, a DFL representative.
The bill covers workers in public safety, health care, and child care, and all other ancillary employees in those sectors. That covers everyone from home health care workers, long-term care providers, and janitorial staff, to corrections officers, police, and paramedics.
But the legislation doesn’t cover public transit employees and grocery store workers, who are also in high-risk situations while on the job. Earlier this week, national supermarkets like Trader Joe’s and Walmart began reporting their first Covid-19 related deaths, raising concerns for the safety of employees.
Walgamott said he pushed to have those workers included in the bill.
“Through the negotiations, they didn’t make it into this bill. But that’s really important to me,” he said, noting that his wife works at a grocery store.
There are also some concerns about funding. The League of Minnesota Cities, a self-insurance pool comprising several Minnesota cities, is worried about the potential burden the bill might have on local economies, said Dan Greensweig, the administrator for the LMC Trust.
The league estimates that workers’ compensation costs for public safety employees could range from $100 million to $500 million. Without enough funds, local governments may end up passing on those costs to property taxpayers, Greensweig said.
“It’s a complicated financial problem,” he said. “We all need to find a way to contribute in an equitable fashion.”
Minnesota Sen. Jeff Howe, who authored the Senate version of the bill, said he’s hopeful that the state won’t see large numbers of frontline workers needing compensation for long-term complications.
“I think you’ll see most of these being the two weeks of quarantine, and most folks will go right back to work,” the Republican senator said. “But if we start having large numbers, this is a discussion that’s going to have to come up and we’re going to have to find a solution.”
In making these decisions, Howe also said he wished lawmakers had better data to work with.
“I would urge the governor to share the facts and assumptions and the numbers he’s using on his model,” he said. “It’s pretty difficult to make these decisions and to make plans on how to bring folks back to work, how to protect people, what length of time we’re looking at when we don’t have the same data that he’s looking at.”
Walgamott, meanwhile, says he hopes to connect with grocery store workers to find ways to help them. He also aims to help entities impacted by this bill.
“Because our state’s finances are really going to be pushed to the limit to respond to this pandemic, there are a lot of factors at play in how we pay for this,” said Walgamott.