Gov. Ned Lamont visiting health care workers earlier in the pandemic. Cloe Poisson /
Gov. Ned Lamont visiting health care workers earlier in the pandemic. Cloe Poisson /

Gov. Ned Lamont surprised lawmakers and lobbyists by announcing Friday afternoon he will sign an executive order creating a presumption that essential workers who contracted COVID-19 during the earliest days of the pandemic are eligible for workers’ compensation.

“Connecticut owes a debt to the health care professionals, grocery store clerks, and other essential workers who stood at their posts during the darkest days of this pandemic,” Lamont said in a statement. “We can pay a part of that debt by providing workers who contracted COVID-19 on the job during those days with a timely, straightforward opportunity to claim any benefits they are due through the workers’ compensation system.”

He did not define what period will be covered, but it likely will comport with a deal that Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, was trying to strike. It would have covered the period from mid-March to May 20, when Lamont ordered a shut down of schools and many businesses.

“I’m glad the governor decided to take action,” said Scanlon, the co-chair of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee. Scanlon said he was among those who did not expect the announcement. 

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said Thursday that he would pursue the issue at a special session in September.

Sal Luciano, the president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said it was important to offer coverage for the earliest months of the pandemic, when many workers facing the public in jobs at stores, health care institutions, and public transit were unprotected by PPE, personal protective equipment. It is reasonable to presume COVID was job-related for those workers, he said.

“Buses still were allowing people to go through the front and make change,” Luciano said. “Even a little bit later than that, when people realized how important PPE was, they still couldn’t get it.”

Scanlon said 922 people have filed workers’ compensation claims related to COVID, with only 43 cases going to a hearing. It is impossible to easily discern how many claims are substantive, since some workers may have filed if exposed simply to preserve their rights.

Joe Brennan, the president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said his trade association was unaware of anyone who filed for workers’ compensation for COVID and was denied.

He said their concern was that the list of essential workers was especially long in Connecticut, which never closed manufacturing.

“We just feel it’s overly broad,” Brennan said.

For most workers who contracted COVID, their claim would be for lost sick days and uncovered medical expenses. But Brennan said no one knows how many of those infected will have permanent damage to their lungs or other organs.

Workers’ compensation also pays a $4,000 death benefit.

Lamont’s staff said the executive order probably would not be completed and signed until next week.

“I appreciate those employers who have done the right thing by their employees, the Connecticut’s Workers’ Compensation Commission for operating continually throughout this pandemic, and most of all, the workers for their efforts and sacrifice,” Lamont said.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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