With all this Ebola talk going around, some of our readership raised the interesting question of whether contracting the virus would be covered under workers compensation and apparently the answer is about as complicated as preventing the spread of the disease.
According to a claims journal article two tests much be satisfied before an illness or disease claim can be considered occupational and thus compensable under workers’ compensation.
First, the illness or disease must be deemed ‘occupational,’ essentially concluding the contraction took place during a work related activity.
Second, the classification is highly dependent upon whether the individual contracted the disease or illness through conditions ‘peculiar’ to the work they are completing.
More or less the general fundamental question is: Was the employee benefitting the employer when exposed to the illness or disease?
Now this does not take into account a slew of factors such as specific state stipulations, professional interpretations and other various intricacies stemming from the question.
Medical opinion leading to the conclusion that an illness is occupational is not necessarily based on the disease but on the facts surrounding the patient’s sickness. Physicians will investigate:
- The timing of the symptoms relational to work: Do symptoms worsen at work and improve following prolonged absence from work (in the evening and on weekends);
- Co-workers showing similar symptoms: Do co-workers show some of the same symptoms currently or in the past (may not be to the same degree as the patient as each individual has varying tolerances);
- If such illness is common to employees in that particular industry;
- If the employee has a predisposition that may lend itself to the illness such as an allergy; and
- Personal habits and medical history of the patient
Ultimately, contracting Ebola is a humankind exposure rather than one that is peculiar to most employments. It is unlikely that both the “occupational” and “compensable” thresholds will be crossed by the vast majority of individuals succumbing to the virus. The key question is and will remain, is the illness peculiar to the job? If not, the illness is not compensable.
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