S.C. lawmakers push for statewide workers’ compensation for first responders who contract COVID-19

Updated: Apr. 2, 2020 at 11:12 PM EDT
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MURRELLS INLET, S.C. (WMBF) - First responders are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic every day, but if they wind up testing positive for the virus, some in South Carolina may have to use their own sick leave or vacation time if they have to go into quarantine.

There is no statewide workers’ compensation for first responders who test positive for COVID-19. Each department has to determine how to handle the issue individually.

It’s a dilemma that has caught the attention of state lawmakers.

“I do know statewide we’ve had six or seven guys in quarantine, this week alone,” said Professional Firefighters Association of South Carolina Vice President Bill Pesature.

That’s several firefighters who have to stay home from work while they wait to find out if they have coronavirus. That’s already a scary thought for Pesature.

Perhaps an even worse thought is that some may have to use their personal sick leave or vacation time while they wait.

“You’re asking people to go out on the front line and work extra shifts, man extra vehicles, so you’re putting them at more risk, then if they come down with something, they’re not going to be covered? I didn’t really think that was the appropriate way to treat employees in this situation," said Pesature. "It’s almost like taking advantage of them.”

Several local departments are making sure that isn’t a concern for their firefighters.

The Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire Department’s board of directors put out a statement saying if an insurance company denies a firefighter’s claim, the board chairman will “personally appear before the judge and demand the claim be paid.”

Myrtle Beach Fire said the city has given them the authority to pay any quarantined firefighters with administrative leave.

Fortunately for Pesature, lawmakers are starting to share his concerns.

“Representative Russell Frye has legislation that’s already been written and ready to go as far as covering first responders," said Pesature.

Pesature said a similar bill is being written in the Senate.

He’s also heard the governor is in favor of this and is trying to work with workers’ compensation to make this a reality.

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