First responders and front-line health care workers who contract COVID-19 will be presumed eligible for workers' compensation for eight more months, under a bill signed into law this week by Gov. Tim Walz.

Normally, workers in Minnesota must establish that they were injured on the job to collect workers' compensation for missed time and/or medical expenses. But proving that they contracted a potentially lethal virus circulating in the general public while on the job can be difficult, if not impossible.

To prevent first responders and health care workers from facing financial disruption should they contract COVID, lawmakers passed a temporary law last year saying such workers are presumed to have been exposed to COVID at work for the purposes of obtaining workers' compensation. That shifted the responsibility to the employer to prove the infection happened elsewhere.

The presumption was set to end on May 1, but Walz on Monday signed an extension through Dec. 31. It covers doctors, nurses, firefighters, paramedics, police, long-term care workers, home health care workers, correctional officers and child care providers.

It doesn't extend to teachers or grocery store workers, who were not included under the temporary law passed last year.

Minnesota is one of about 15 states with a COVID-19 workers' compensation presumption for first responders and health care workers.

Rep. Dan Wolgamott, DFL-St. Cloud, who authored the original presumption bill last year, cheered the extension. He said that without it, thousands of first responders and health care workers and their families would have been denied workers' compensation, even though their jobs demand that they work during the pandemic.

"This legislation single-handedly gave over 3,000 front-line workers and their families COVID-19 workers' comp benefits," Wolgamott said Tuesday. "We are not out of the woods on this pandemic yet, and … we need to continue to support these front-line workers."

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry reported that as of Dec. 23, 15,191 claims for COVID-related workers' compensation had been filed in the state.

Although the 180,000 first responders and front-line health care workers with COVID presumptions make up just a fraction of Minnesota's workforce of 2.7 million people, they accounted for 82% of the COVID-related filings for workers' compensation.

State officials reported that 14% of the claims filed by workers with the legal presumption were denied.

Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779