NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A now-former state employee stays she contracted COVID-19 on the job and how her former employer, New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, is refusing to give her money designed to support employees who get hurt on the job. In early December, New Mexico was in the middle of its big surge in coronavirus cases. It’s during that time, a former CYFD budget officer working at home says she was required to come into the office just to move furniture.
“The employer, in this case, CYFD, made a choice. They decided to require their employees to move their own offices during COVID. They put my client in a position where she was in a closed environment for five hours or more, in enclosed spaces, in close contact with six people and the department really wasn’t enforcing a mask rule,” said attorney Jacob Candelaria.
Candelaria who does serve as a state senator, says his client was wearing a mask. However, he says soon after her CYFD supervisor, Philip Rodriguez, required her to come into the office, she developed symptoms and tested positive. Candelaria says her husband also contracted COVID-19 and had to be hospitalized for five days. Candelaria says COVID hit his client hard.
The former employee claims she was forced out for filing the workers’ compensation complaint and now, seven months later, has lingering symptoms like difficulty breathing. Candelaria says she filed for workers’ compensation benefits to make sure her medical care would be covered by the state but her claim has repeatedly been denied.
“I think what we have here is a classic case of the state wanting people to do as I say but not as I do. They expect everyone to comply but when state government has an instance of noncompliance that results in harm to a state employee, they’re very quick to deny any responsibility and that is very disappointing,” Candelaria said.
The claim was not resolved Monday and it will now head to a full hearing before an administrative law judge with the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Administration. A spokesperson says they cannot talk about cases specifically but says the burden of proof does fall on the employee to prove that the injury or illness happened within the scope of their job.
In a tweet, Candelaria called out the governor’s administration for denying the claim but the governor’s office says they play no role in oversight of the workers’ compensation process.