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Pandemic highlights disparities across states, injuries vs. illnesses

By: Jay Patel, Research Assistant for Income Security Policy
Published: May 2020

The U.S. workers’ compensation system in its current form is complex, opaque and fragmented. Unlike other social insurance programs, it is wholly administered at the state level, and there is neither federal oversight nor any federal mandate that sets out minimum standards. As a result, there is substantial variation across states in levels of both coverage and benefits. Moreover, compensation differs for job-related injuries versus illnesses.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the challenge of determining whether employees who contract a highly contagious disease that exposes some workers more than others qualify for benefits under workers’ compensation. This brief explores how those two disparities – from state to state and between injuries and illnesses – are playing out during this crisis, and longer-term implications.