Bill Adding COVID-19 To Workers’ Comp Act Passes House

Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil

STATE News:

Santa Fe — Monday, essential workers who contract COVID-19, and whose employers have failed to comply with Covid-safe practices, will qualify for Workers’ Compensation benefits under new legislation passed by the New Mexico House of Representatives.  

Sponsored by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil (D-Albuquerque)Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos)Rep. Meredith A. Dixon (D-Albuquerque)Rep. Daymon Ely (D-Corrales), and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Albuquerque).

House Bill 268 adds to the Workers’ Compensation Act a rebuttable presumption that contraction of COVID-19 by an essential employee is a work-related injury eligible for worker compensation if the employee can establish that their workplace has not complied with public health orders.  

“COVID-19 is a highly-contagious virus that can be easily spread throughout the workplace, especially when employers are not complying with public health orders meant to help keep their staff safe,” Rep. Hochman-Vigil said. “Employees who are subject to these dangerous conditions in order to do their essential job deserve adequate Workers’ Compensation benefits should they contract the virus and become ill.”  

“Public health orders are in place in New Mexico because COVID-19 is dangerous, often causing serious illness, long-term health issues, and even death. If an employer chooses to violate the state’s mandates, then they are liable for resulting employee illnesses,” Rep. Chandler said. “Conversely, businesses who follow the rules will not face claims under this Act, and can even receive explicit exclusion if they proactively implement testing and tracing plans approved by the Department of Health.”  

“This pandemic has shown the glaring reality that many of our essential workers lack the coverage necessary to be protected in this pandemic,” Rep. Dixon said. “This bill simply extends the most basic protections to essential employees and sets forth guidelines so workers and businesses have a clear understanding of when COVID-10 infections are work-related and should be covered.” 

“This bill is about heroes, and if we don’t pass this bill heroes will get COVID-19 at the workplace where an employer is not following the law, and they cannot get workers compensation,” Rep. Ely said. “If we were to not pass this bill, we would be protecting irresponsible businesses who’re exposing their employees to danger without consequences.”  

“New Mexico’s essential workers are putting their health and safety on the line every day to provide the rest of our state with healthcare, food, public safety, and other vital services,” Rep. Roybal Caballero said. “They deserve to do so in a safe, state-compliant workplace, and to receive proper compensation and benefits if their employer’s negligence contributes to them contracting the virus which has already killed over 3,700 New Mexicans.”  

Under HB 268, employers may rebut COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation claims by providing evidence that the worker personally and substantially violated current public health orders. 

Passed by the House on a 38-27 vote, HB 268 will now move to the Senate. The bill would become effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature and would remain in effect until January 31, 2023. 

Members of the public can track legislation on the New Mexico Legislature website, access committee meetings and House floor sessions via the Webcasts tab, or participate by Zoom to provide public comment on committee hearings. During the 2021 Legislative Session, the House of Representatives is focused on passing critical legislation while protecting the health and safety of the public, the staff, and the legislators.

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