Nearly 3,000 federal workers have filed compensation claims for having contracted COVID-19 on the job, a number that is expected to double by early next month, according to a Department of Labor review.
Through mid-June, families of 48 federal workers had filed death claims with the Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation.
The report only reflects the number of federal workers or their families who filed claims by June 16 — not the number who actually have contracted the coronavirus or died from it. Reports from individual agencies indicate the number of infections and deaths is much higher.
But the report from the department's inspector general is one of the first centralized assessments of the way the virus is affecting the federal workforce, many of whom have continued to work on site through the pandemic.
The inspector general found that the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs was “experiencing or expecting delays and resource management issues as a result of increasing claims or social distancing mandates brought on by the pandemic.”
The inspector general's audit found that as of June 16, the Division of Federal Employees' Compensation had received 2,866 COVID-19 claims, including 48 death claims, and paid out approximately $30,000 in medical benefits and compensation. It estimates that those totals will reach 6,000 claims by early August.
Individual agency reports from the three largest federal agencies — Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security — show the extent of infections and death among workers.
As of July 27, the Defense Department reported 5,373 virus cases among civilian employees, with 33 deaths. Veterans Affairs reports that 41 employees have died. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration, two of the largest sub-agencies under the Department of Homeland Security umbrella, report a combined 2,905 infection cases among employees, with 14 deaths.
The government has designated occupations such as law enforcement, first responders, and front-line medical and public health personnel as inherently high-risk. Employees in those fields only have to report an infection in order to claim compensation. Federal employees in other fields are being asked to prove that they were infected in the course of their duties.
Joe Mansour, a workers compensation specialist with the American Federation of Government Employees, said the compensation process for infected workers has been erratic, with confusing instructions and mixed messages. Mansour says he has fielded complaints from employees in positions considered high-risk, who are still being asked to provide detailed doctor's explanations despite the promise of an expedited process.
“It hasn't been terrible, but it hasn't been as easy as they claim,” he said. “The VA has been really terrible, but the TSA and the Bureau of Prisons have improved tremendously.”