Letter to CO Legislature re: SB216, the "Workers' Compensation Act of Colorado"

Saturday, June 6, 2020 - 8:15am

Re: SB216, the “Workers' Compensation Act of Colorado ”

TO THE MEMBERS OF THE COLORADO LEGISLATURE:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce appreciates your continued efforts to address the many
policy issues surrounding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and in particular its impact on
individuals who remain at work in industries deemed essential. The use of workers ’
compensation programs to compensate employees who become ill has emerged as a policy
considera tion, reflected in the recently introduced SB216, the “Workers' Compensation Act of
Colorado. ” The Chamber opposes this legislation, and respectfully offers the following
observations potential unintended consequences on affected individuals ’benefits.

As currently drafted, SB216 would create a presumption that infections of the
coronavirus contracted by “essential ” employees, including but not limited to an exceptionally
wide array of workers in the health care, public safety, airline, grocery, and constr uction
industries, are work -related for the purpose of workers ’compensation benefits provided for
work -related injuries and illnesses. No other state has expanded workers ’compensation coverage
so broadly, and in any event, workers ’compensation already covers demonstrable claims related
to coronavirus infection, making this bill unnecessary.

It is also important to note that workers who are home ill with the coronavirus are eligible
for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which includes an extra $600 per week
supplement through July 31. Because the PUA program is federally funded, the compensation it
provides will avoid placing unnecessary strain on the workers ’compensation program, and there
is no need for the state to bear the cost of providing affected employees ’compensation.
Moreover, for the affected employee, the U.S. Department of Labor has indicated that per
existing regulations workers ’compensation benefits such an employee receives would likely be
considered deductible income offsetting their PUA benefits. In other words, workers ’
compensation and PUA benefits are mutually exclusive, so there is likely to be no advantage to
utilizing the workers ’compensation program as an income supplement as contemplated by
SB216. In fact, it may make workers worse off.

In addition, the duration of the presumption under SB216 would extend for two years —
presumably well beyond the expiration of the state of emergency or other “stay at home ”
requirements currently in place. When the day comes that businesses are fully free to resume
operations and individuals are free to socialize and operate more or less as usual, the risk of
exposure to the coronavirus will still be present, but it will be essentially impossible to determine
whether a future exposure is truly occupational. Yet, the bill eliminates the requirement that aworker prove that his or her injury arose out of and in the course of employment and instead places the burden on an employer to prove that it did not, which would be nearly impo ssible. SB216 would transform workers ’compensation in such a way that it no longer would require a causal connection between the conditions under which work is performed and a coronavirus infection, which will place enormous stress on the entire system at a time when most employers are only just beginning to recover from the nationwide shut -down of our economy.

The Chamber recognizes the need to assist those facing employment challenges due to it,
while at the same time we encourage adopting the polici es best suited to do so. With that in
mind, we urge you not to pass SB216. Thank you for the opportunity to provide some thoughts
on the use of workers ’compensation to address the impact of the unprecedented coronavirus
pandemic.

Sincerely,

Glenn Spe ncer
Senior Vice President
Employment Policy Division