The Maryland Legislature has been on track to pass new legislation shifting the presumption to employers and insurers on COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims before the session ends in April.
The defense bar has remained opposed to any legislation, however expectations remain that some legislation is likely. Due to a variety of competing bills being proposed, there remains little clarity as to how the final bill will read or if the legislature will even coalesce around any specific bill. On March 2, 2021 and March 9, 2021, the bills were the subject of legislative hearings that included a total of seven differing bills. The senate finance committee is expected to vote on the bills any day with any final version to be voted on by the state legislature in the upcoming three weeks.
Three significant outstanding questions, include:
There is also confusion over how the final bill will be codified. The proposals are largely relying upon Maryland Labor and Employment Article 9-503 dedicated to first responders—a statute that does not include other potential groups lobbying for inclusion as covered employees under the proposed legislation.
The lack of any legislation has not prevented claimants from bringing claims forward. Generally, the Maryland Workers’ Compensation commissioners have been finding claims compensable if claimant’s can show that they had a work exposure to a positive individual, especially if the claimant has worked in a nursing home, hospital, or related field. The biggest hurdle in trying COVID-19 claims to date has been proving by a preponderance of the evidence when the contraction actually occurred. Every version of the proposed legislation will shift that burden in many instances to the employer and insurer to prove that the claimant did not contract the disease at work.
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