LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: COVID-19 REBUTTABLE PRESUMPTIONS IN IOWA
During the 2021 Iowa Legislative Session, legislators introduced two bills to amend the COVID-19 Response and Back-to-Business Limited Liability Act (“the Act”). The Act currently limits liability for businesses in civil actions arising from COVID-19 exposure but does not impact workers’ compensation claims. If passed, proposed bills HF 121 and SF 138 would provide employee-friendly rebuttable presumptions relating to COVID-19 infections for workers’ compensation, retroactive to January 1, 2020. The legislature has taken no action on HF 121 or SF 138 since their introductions and committee assignments in January. Iowa’s legislative process requires House and Senate files to advance out of their respective committees by the “first funnel” deadline, March 5, 2021. Because neither bill advanced, both HF 121 and SF 138 are currently considered dead in committee. As always, there remains a possibility that legislators may introduce bills with the same or similar propositions in the 2022 Iowa Legislative Session— however, the inaction and lack of bipartisan support for HF 121 and SF 138 indicates that future legislation proposing rebuttable presumptions related to COVID-19 for workers’ compensation is unlikely to be successful. HF 121 On January 21, 2021, Representative Hunter introduced HF 121. The bill was then referred to the House Labor Committee. HF 121 seeks to provide a rebuttable presumption that an employee’s infection with COVID-19 is an occupational disease for which an employer is liable for compensation under the Iowa occupational disease law, so long as the employee can show that they were exposed to a person infected with COVID-19 or a similar disease while in the workplace. For a disease to be considered a compensable occupational disease, an employee must show that (1) a condition peculiar to the occupation caused the disease, (2) the employee contracted a disease during the employment in the occupation, (3) the occupation presents a particular hazard of the disease, and (4) the incidence of ordinary diseases of life is substantially higher in the occupation than in the public. See Iowa Code § 85A.8, 12. If HF 121 were to be enacted, employees would only be required to show that they were exposed to somebody infected with COVID-19 and contracted the virus to create a presumption of liability. An employee would not have to show evidence of causation or any other element typically required of an occupational disease. An employer would then have the burden to disprove liability. SF 138 On January 25, 2021, Senators Boulton, Giddens, Bolkcom, Bisignano, Trone Garriott, Mathis, Jochum, Quirmbach, Hogg, Petersen, Smith, Ragan, Wahls, and Dotzler introduced SF 138. The bill was then referred to the Senate Labor and Business Relations Committee and assigned to a subcommittee on January 26, 2021. SF 138 seeks to provide a rebuttable presumption that an employee’s COVID-19 infection is a personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment for purposes of workers’ compensation. The bill proposes that an employer must pay an employee with a COVID-19 infection a minimum of two weeks of weekly compensation benefits pursuant to Section 85.33(1). If passed, SF 138 would allow employees to prove entitlement to at least two weeks of temporary benefits by merely showing that they contracted COVID-19, without any evidence that they contracted the virus from work. The two weeks of benefits would also be owed regardless of whether the employee missed work due to the virus or not. An employer would then have the burden of proof to show that the employee did not contract the virus due to the employee’s workplace activities.
This post was drafted by Makenzie Falcon, a law student and law clerk at Baylor Evnen. If you have questions about these bills, please contact Micah C. Hawker-Boehnke or Paul Barta at (402) 475-1075 for more information.