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Does workers’ compensation cover infectious disease?

| Feb 8, 2021 | Firm News

The last year has brought up questions about how we go about our daily lives. One question of specific new relevance is understanding when an illness from work is appropriate for workers’ compensation.

As we discussed last week, California implemented a “presumption of workplace coronavirus” for people who came down with the disease in certain situations. However, workplaces are a primary disease vector for most common viruses and infections. That raises one big question:

Does workers’ compensation cover every disease?

The implications of such a question are pretty straightforward. Some workplaces have little sick time available. For instance, part-time workers frequently do not have sick time, and of course, how much sick time a person can take in a year is limited. However, if an illness caught at work is coverable by workers’ compensation, that changes many circumstances for many, many people.

In general, workers’ compensation law covers a host of occupational conditions, like a repetitive stress injury or toxic exposure. However, there is no such clarity on illnesses such as:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma
  • Cancer

Furthermore, California notes explicitly that the flu and the common cold are exceptions to workers’ compensation while allowing for other infectious diseases.

The reason workers’ compensation is not available for colds and the flu — and is challenging to get for the other diseases mentioned —is that it is nearly impossible to accurately discover where the exposure happened. All workers’ compensation claims must have a legitimate basis in having happened at work. If there is a question about where someone’s exposure occurred, then that would be a significant obstacle to workers’ compensation.

Coronavirus protections going forward

However, as of now, while many conditions exacerbated by work or caused by work exposure aren’t coverable, coronavirus is explicitly covered. Furthermore, there has been action to secure this coverage for the near future, which we will cover on Friday.