As our state reopens businesses and continues with “normal life” in the wake of the unprecedented global pandemic, there are still more than a million workers who fear that their underlying health conditions will make them more susceptible to coronavirus infection. Meanwhile, employers have been given authority to fire any employees who do not return to work. This has presented employees with an impossible choice: endanger their health, or endanger their livelihood.
The workers who fear returning to work include a broad segment of people with preexisting health conditions, including people with chronic lung illness, heart disease, compromised immune systems, cancer survivors, or diabetes.
“These are people who may look fine on the outside, but if they get infected, this could be fatal,” said Dr. Faoud Ishmael, a specialist in immunology at Mount Nittany Medical Center, located in one of the first counties to reopen. Despite their enhanced risk, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry clarified that people cannot stay on unemployment purely out of fear of the virus.
“If they are called back to work, and the work is there, then they are expected to go back,” the secretary said. Some state officials said people with preexisting conditions may be provided with extended benefits, but that would be on a case-by-case basis, and it hasn’t been made clear what cases would qualify.
How Many At-Risk Workers Are There in Pennsylvania?
The total number of working people in our state with these conditions is staggering—diabetes alone is claimed by 1.4 million of our fellow residents. The prospect of returning to work isn’t the only problem these people are facing. Reopening businesses means that family members of at-risk patients will also be returning to work, potentially bringing infection home with them.
Susan Dickinson, state director of the Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy, said that people with immunocompromised family members would still be considered for extension of benefits. “If part of the reason why they’re not going back is because they have a compromised immune system or someone in their family has a compromised immune system,” she said, “we would look at that as more of a relevant reason than that they were just making more money on unemployment, or something like that.”
However, that’s a mighty large risk for many Pennsylvanians to take. Most of the immunocompromised people who would be most at risk rely on their employers for health insurance. Most of them can’t afford not to work, and for the few that can, their health costs would skyrocket if they lost their employer-provided insurance. People are going to be forced to go back to work, no matter their health conditions.
Employers Are Obligated to Protect You—But Only If Enforced
State officials have ordered businesses to provide workers with personal protective equipment and social distancing measures. However, employees have criticized their companies for not abiding by those rules—the governor even confessed that the orders couldn’t be widely enforced, at least not by Pennsylvania officials.
However, there is another way for work safety standards to be enforced. If you get sick as a result of your employer’s poor policies in the wake of COVID-19, our firm may be able to file a work injury lawsuit on your behalf. Not only would an injury and/or a workers’ compensation claim potentially provide you with the money you need to recover, but it would also compel your employer to change their health policies (or risk further litigation).
How Our Pennsylvania Work Injury Attorneys Can Help
If you’re looking for help, our firm can explore every possible avenue of compensation available to you. We can build a case around your needs, regardless of what you’re facing. Our team can represent your needs in every kind of claim, from social security disability, to workers’ compensation, to unemployment, to a direct lawsuit against your employer. Any or all of these options might be available to you—to know for sure, however, you’ll need to call us for a free consultation.
Since 1922, Handler, Henning & Rosenberg LLC has been at the forefront of worker advocacy. We’ve fought for every worker’s right to recovery and compensation for nearly a century, getting our clients the help they needed to pay their medical bills, recoup their lost wages, and move forward without fear or insecurity. For workers in Central Pennsylvania, we’re the firm to call when no one else will stand up for them.
Call (888) 498-3023 to learn your recovery options in a free consultation.