Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Infectious Disease?
If you suffer an injury at work, what to do next may be obvious if you’re familiar with the basics of workers’ compensation law and filing procedures. But what happens if you catch a contagious disease at work?
What happens if you contract pneumonia while at work, for example, and you’re not able to return to work for several weeks while you recover?
While it’s important to note that not all infectious diseases are compensable under New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law, diseases that are contracted while working under conditions unique to your job duties or work environment have the potential to earn you compensation for medical bills or lost wages. In the event that an infectious disease is so severe that it leads to the infected employee’s death, their surviving spouse or family members may be entitled to benefits for medical and funeral expenses paid out by the employer’s insurance carrier.
What Types of Infections Are Considered Employment-Related?
New Jersey’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development, like those of many other states, define infectious or contagious diseases as being compensable under workers’ comp law if the employee filing the claim had a greater chance of contracting the disease at their job than they would while among the general public. Under this definition, catching a cold or the flu, which are very common diseases that most of the general population can contract anywhere, would not be compensable under workers’ comp law.
However, there are certain work environments, factors and job duties that pose the risk of employees contracting certain types of infectious diseases while on the job, more so than the general public would be at risk of contracting.
As a prime example, health care workers are especially vulnerable to a slew of contagions and infections that can carry serious or fatal health risks from even the slightest amount of exposure. A nurse accidentally stuck with a needle that was used on a patient known to have HIV, or that contracts MRSA while treating patients infected with it, can earn workers’ comp benefits by claiming they were at a particularly high risk of those infections due to the nature of their work.
Since these types of infections are quite common in hospitals but not readily spread among the general public, these healthcare workers are likely to receive workers’ comp since these illnesses were contracted while on the job, and working at the hospital or rehab center gave them a peculiarly high risk of exposure and contraction compared to the level of exposure and spread among the general public.
Other types of infectious diseases that can be caught on the job include rare fevers, tuberculosis, asbestosis, and even cancer, depending on the conditions in which a claimant works and the type of work expected of their job position. As another example, a salesperson who is sent abroad to an Asian country where they contract typhoid or a rare type of flu may be able to file a workers’ comp claim.
Since foreigners are at an especially high risk of contracting a disease that the locals in these countries have most likely built an immunity to, and since the salesperson attended a foreign country as part of a work assignment and as a result, was exposed to the chance of catching an infectious disease on the job more so than they would have been exposed elsewhere, they have a good chance of collecting workers’ compensation for lost wages and medical bills.
In the case that exposure to an infectious disease causes you to miss work in order to seek treatment, such as for blood testing, you may be entitled to temporary disability compensation to cover your medical costs and wages lost from missing work. If you’re infected with a disease that causes lifelong issues or the permanent malfunction of a certain bodily system, your employer may be required to pay you permanent disability and medical monitoring.
What Happens if You Catch a Disease from a Coworker?
Workplaces are breeding grounds for contagious diseases. With a large number of people working within close proximity of one another in the same building or room, it’s common for one sick person to come into the office and spread their germs among their coworkers.
However, there are certain situations where catching an infectious disease at your workplace could earn you workers’ comp benefits. The hard part is proving that your circumstances entitle you to these benefits.
Unlike being hurt on the job, where one specific incident or string of events happens that triggers a work injury or occupational disease on the work premises, proving you caught an infectious disease at work can be difficult and negatively impact your claim if not done correctly and thoroughly. There are two factors at play that need to be proved in order for you to see any benefits: you must prove that your workplace exposed you to your disease at a greater degree than what the general public would normally be exposed to, and that the specific job duties you perform and environment you work in significantly contributed to you contracting your disease.
The common cold and the flu are prevalent throughout America and spread fairly easily across the population, even among groups of people who don’t work in an office every day. Catching a cold or the flu from a coworker while at work is not likely to award you any money, even if you end up missing work for several days as a result of your illness, because your risk of contraction is about the same as the general public’s risk of contraction.
More serious and possibly lethal diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis, typhoid or meningitis, can be eligible for workers’ comp if your coworker brought it into the workplace and you work alongside said coworker for the majority of your workday. Workers’ comp, in this case, would clearly be attainable, since you technically caught the disease while at work and your employment gave you a greater risk of contracting the disease than what the general public would normally have.
What to Do If You Contract an Infectious Disease at Work
If you contract an infectious disease at work, whether or not you’re eligible for workers’ compensation can depend on a number of circumstances. It’s advised to see a doctor to determine the extent of your injuries, and your workers’ comp claim will also require you to prove the link between your disease and your employment in order to see benefits. The best way to discover which benefits you’re eligible for is to hire a qualified workers’ compensation lawyer.
Goldberg & Wolf has been representing work injury and occupational disease claims throughout Cherry Hill and surrounding areas since 1992. Our highly experienced legal team will go through your case with meticulous attention to detail and help you file your claim within the statute of limitations for New Jersey workers’ comp law.
Get the compensation you deserve from lawyers who are ready to focus on your recovery and rights. Contact us today for a free case evaluation at 856-651-1600 or visit our office at 1949 Berlin Road in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.