SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– Do you think you got infected with COVID-19 at the office? What if your employer disagrees? COVID-19 infections are the new frontier of work comp claims.
No one wants to be fired, but few of us worry about leaving our jobs on hospital beds. That’s exactly what happened to Gordon Johnson.
“I wound up almost dying in the hospital,” said Johnson.
Johnson, who was a 13-year employee at RBX Transportation in Strafford, Missouri, claims he contracted COVID-19 at work. Even though the world hit a steep learning curve with COVID-19 in the Spring of 2020, Johnson was stricken last October, months after governments and health departments urged masking and other mitigation measures.
According to Johnson, RBX did not require masking in his office where truckers from around the country routinely stop in.
“I didn’t wear a mask at work for fear of ridicule and being made fun of,” said Johnson.
KOLR10 reached out to RBX president Pat Blasi but has not received a reply.
Johnson, who was fired from RBX in March 2021, now has to pay tens of thousands in medical deductibles.
“Right now, my lungs are only functioning at 47 percent,” said Johnson.
Johnson’s attorney, Randy Alberhasky filed a work comp claim in Administrative Law Court. The company responded to the court by stating, “The alleged accident was not the prevailing factor for the injuries or disability claimed.”
In other words, RGX says Johnson cannot prove he contracted the virus while on the job. Johnson says the company’s behavior undermines its argument.
“They didn’t fumigate and kill the bugs till after people tested positive,” said Johnson.
Johnson’s experience could just be the tip of the iceberg. In traditional work comp complaints, the links between job activity and injury are clear, but tracking when and where a COVID-19 infection started in the middle of the pandemic is murky.
“In that employers are slow to react, slow to authorize treatment, slow to respond to the employee’s problems,” said Alberhasky.
Missouri State Senator Tony Luetkemeyer is sponsoring SB51 this session to shield companies like RBX from COVID-19 liability claims.
“We want to make sure in Missouri that we’re standing up and protecting those small business owners, those school districts, those front-line healthcare workers who helped us weather this pandemic,” said Luetkemeyer.
However, for Johnson and those not dealing with COVID-19 well is just as critical.