COVID as an occupational disease
The Government establishes the consideration of COVID-19 as an occupational disease for health and social-health workers.
The Council of Ministers has approved a Royal Decree-Law that includes measures to establish COVID-19 as an occupational disease for healthcare and socio-healthcare professionals, for the purposes of benefits. This decision improves coverage for this group, whose contagion was already considered a special occupational contingency derived from an accident at work for all benefits.
In this way, those professionals who provide services in healthcare and social healthcare centres registered in the corresponding registers; those who, in the exercise of their profession, during the provision of healthcare or social healthcare services, attend to patients infected by the SARS-Cov2 virus; and who have contracted the virus since the declaration of the international pandemic by the WHO, until the health authorities lift all the prevention measures adopted to deal with the health crisis, will have the same benefits that the Social Security grants to those affected by an occupational disease.
The occupational risk prevention services must issue the corresponding report stating that the professional activity involves caring for patients infected by the SARS-Cov2 virus. Once the contagion has been accredited, it will be presumed in all cases that this has occurred as a result of caring for people infected by COVID-19.
Likewise, the declaration of COVID-19 as an occupational disease will affect all staff who make up a social and health workforce, i.e. it also includes “orderlies and other workers who carry out their work in the health sector”. The measure will be retroactive, being recognised for those workers who have contracted the virus since the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised the alert to pandemic level and its validity will last “until the end of all prevention measures“.
Since the start of the pandemic, the government has taken several measures to improve the protection of people affected by COVID-19. In March it already improved protection for all workers infected or in isolation by classifying them as an accident at work, which means raising the benefit for the worker to 75% of the regulatory base (as opposed to 60% for ordinary sick leave) and freeing workers and companies from the cost, as Social Security takes over from the first day.
In addition, with the passage of time, many of these temporary sick leaves may be considered permanent (permanent incapacity for work), as there are a number of sequelae resulting from the infection, which currently cannot be classified as temporary due to the lack of treatment or diagnosis or improvement.
However, recognition as an occupational disease is an important step in improving coverage for this group, because unlike recognition as an accident at work, it is covered for the entire life of the worker.
As a consequence of the above measures, it should be borne in mind that this opens the way to possible claims for surcharges on benefits and sentences for the payment of compensation for damages if the occupational illnesses or accidents suffered by workers are the result of a lack of adequate prevention measures, which, at the beginning of the pandemic, was a well-known fact.