The North Carolina legislature has been fast at work drafting and passing legislation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act is no exception as two bills were introduced on May 1, 2020. House Bill 1056 and 1057 both proposed adding an enumerated compensable disease to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-53 that would address exposure to the coronavirus and developing Covid-19 while working. 

Bill 1056 proposes adding “Coronavirus infection contracted by a covered person.” The bill states that a coronavirus infection contracted by a person working as a law enforcement officer, jailer, prison guard, firefighter, emergency medical technician, paramedic employed by a state or local government, volunteer firefighter or a health care worker would be presumed to be due to exposure in the course of employment resulting in compensable occupational disease. The presumption would be rebuttable, but only by the high standard of clear and convincing evidence. The new enumeration would be effective for cases occurring on or after the bill becomes law in these professions. 

Bill 1057 is more expansive in its reach and proposes adding “pandemic infection contracted by a covered person” as an enumerated compensable disease. It defines a pandemic as “an outbreak of an emerging disease prevalent in the United States or the whole world.” The bill also is more expansive in its definition of covered employment including a law enforcement officer, jailer, prison guard, firefighter, or an emergency medical technician or paramedic employed by a State or local governmental employer, including a volunteer firefighter meeting the requirement of G.S. 58-84-5(3a), health care worker, or an employee required to work during a pandemic for a business declared essential by executive order of the Governor or by order of a local governmental authority, including food service, retail, and other essential personnel. A person that contracts a “pandemic infection” while employed in one of these professions would be presumed to have been exposed in the course of employment and therefore resulting in a compensable disease. The presumption could only be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. This section would also be effective for cases occurring on or after the bill becomes law. 

The two bills would have the effect of removing the burden of an employee in these covered positions from having to satisfy the criteria set out in the “catch-all” provision of N.C. Gen. Stat. §97-53(13). This statute requires  an employee to show evidence of causation and show  the nature of the employee’s employment exposed the employee to an “increased risk” of developing COVID-19.   These  bills could effectively remove all legal hurdles for a covered employee to prove a compensable infection of Covid-19. 

Cranfill Sumner and Hartzog, LLP has been providing news and analysis on Covid-19 and will continue to monitor proposed legislation.

Disclaimer: As these are proposed bills the language will change over time and may make the above article outdated. Future updates on these bills and others will be made in new articles.