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CLAIM DENIED: Quarantined HFD Firefighter denied workers’ comp

HOUSTON – Friday, The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association raised concerns about firefighters -- who were ordered to quarantine after on-the-job COVID-19 exposure -- being denied workers’ compensation claims.

There are approximately 140 quarantined firefighters who believe they were exposed but may have not tested for the virus.

Union President, Patrick “Marty” Lancton forwarded a portion of a redacted denial letter. A company called Tristar manages the city employees’ workers’ compensation claims.

The denial letter from Tristar states:

“Based on the investigation to date, there is no evidence that establishes that you have sustained a compensable injury/occupational disease and/or think the risk of contracting COVID-19 is inherent in your specific type of employment or that disease was indigenous to your work..."

Friday, Lancton called the response a ‘slap in the face’. Lancton is concerned that firefighters ordered into quarantine for on-the-job exposure will have to burn personal days and/or vacation time for the ordered quarantine.

“When workers’ compensation called (one of the firefighters), they told him, ‘nope,’ he left voluntarily therefore his workers’ compensation was denied. The problem is, Joel, we can’t get a simple answer out of the city or what workers compensation is, Lancton said.

We asked both HFD Chief Sam Pena and the Mayor’s Office about the denial.

Friday, both the Chief and the Mayor offered the same quote.

“If the employee develops NO symptoms, DOES NOT meet the criteria for testing, and receives NO medical care while in quarantine, and the worker’s comp claim is denied as a result, then the employee will be carried on a pay-code that will track the employee’s absence from work but NOT reduce the firefighter’s benefit time (sick, vacation, holiday, etc)," Chief Pena wrote by email.

Friday, Chief Sam Pena, sent similar information via email to KPRC2:

"Joel- the assertion is inaccurate. Mayor Turner’s position is that any City of Houston employee that tests positive for COVID-19 will be presumed to have a work-related acquired COVID-19 illness.

Firefighters who are placed in quarantine for COVID-19 action are initially carried on worker’s compensation. If the employee develops NO symptoms, DOES NOT meet the criteria for testing, and receives NO medical care while in quarantine, and the worker’s comp claim is denied as a result, then the employee will be carried on a pay-code that will track the employee’s absence from work but NOT reduce the firefighter’s benefit time (sick, vacation, holiday, etc).

The result is that no out of pocket costs is incurred, and no reduction in benefit time will be experienced by the employee for any COVID-19 action the department takes in caring for the health and safety of our personnel while complying with CDC and Health Department guidelines."

Lancton said he would take the chief at his word, but that the position should be cemented in written policy.