Does Workers’ Comp Cover Illness?
If you get sick on the job, can you file for workers compensation?
This is a great question. Most people know that if they are injured at work—say, by falling off a ladder—workers’ comp will cover them. But what if the work injury isn’t an injury at all, but an illness? Does workers’ comp cover illness? If it doesn’t, are there other options?
As with many legal issues, the answer is: it depends. Keep reading to learn when an illness might be covered by workers’ compensation.
What Does Workers’ Comp Cover?
In Ohio, workers’ compensation pays benefits to employees who are injured or contract an occupational disease on the job.
Workers’ compensation covers injuries that happen on the job—both one-time and repetitive stress injuries. For example, a restaurant worker who slips and falls on a wet floor could receive workers’ compensation benefits, as could a factory worker who develops carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive movements.
In addition, workers’ comp covers what’s called “occupational diseases.” An occupational disease refers to an illness an employee develops as a result of their job.
Unfortunately, just because you get sick on the job doesn’t mean you’re covered: workers’ compensation doesn’t cover all types of illnesses. Let’s dig in to which illnesses are covered and which aren’t.
Illnesses Covered By Workers’ Comp
The most common occupational diseases occur because an employee was repeatedly exposed to—or had prolonged exposure to—something toxic or harmful to human health. Unfortunately, this is common. In fact, the CDC estimates that at least 13 million Americans are exposed to chemicals in their workplace.
Occupational diseases can happen to employees in many different industries. However, some professions—including construction workers, miners, welders, firefighters, and farm workers—are at higher risk for many occupational illnesses.
Here are a few examples of occupational diseases that may be covered by workers’ comp:
- Chemical poisoning: Chemical burns and poisoning happen when an employee is exposed to harmful chemicals without the proper protective equipment. Employees in the agriculture, manufacturing, transportation industries are especially at risk.
- Occupational asthma, COPD, silicosis, asbestosis, and other respiratory conditions: When an employee frequently breathes in dust or chemical fumes on the job, respiratory problems happen. Workers in the manufacturing, refining, mining, construction, and textile industries, in particular, are prone to developing respiratory illnesses.
- Mesothelioma and other cancers: Mesothelioma is a type of cancer most commonly caused by workplace exposure to asbestos. Also, other types of cancers may be caused by workplace exposure to a variety of harmful contaminants. Though workers in many industries can develop cancer, firefighters are especially at risk of job-related cancer.
- Neurotoxic disorders: Exposure to some hazardous substances, such as heavy metals and certain solvents, can affect the brain. Workers in automobile or battery manufacturing, smelting, welding, or demolition should be aware of the risk.
Just as with injuries, illnesses are only covered if the worker can prove the job caused the illness.
Unfortunately, proving this can be tougher than proving an on-the-job accident. After all, workplace accidents are single events. They often have witnesses or camera footage. On the other hand, occupational illnesses often come on slowly. Sometimes, symptoms of a problem don’t show up until months or years after the workplace exposure. This makes it easier for employers to argue that the employee’s illness wasn’t caused by the job.
That’s why, if you believe your illness was caused by your job, it’s a good idea to talk to a workers’ compensation attorney. An experienced and qualified attorney can help you prove your case, so workers’ comp covers your illness.
Illnesses Not Covered by Workers’ Comp
Some illnesses are specifically excluded from being covered by workers’ comp:
- Anxiety, depression, and other psychological conditions (with an exception): Mental illnesses aren’t covered by workers’ compensation—unless the employee can prove the illness was a result of a workplace injury. For example, say an employee suffered a traumatic injury at work and lost a limb. After, they also developed depression or PTSD. Because the mental illness is connected to a physical injury, workers’ comp may cover it. Otherwise, unfortunately, it’s not covered.
- Infectious diseases (with an exception): Workers’ comp doesn’t typically cover illnesses like the common cold, flu, and even COVID-19. That’s because it’s almost impossible to prove where the employee became sick, since anyone in public might carry a virus. However, there is an exception in some cases: if your job requires you to interact with sick people, so you’re at greater risk of getting sick.
If you’re not sure whether or not your illness is covered, it’s important to check with an attorney. You don’t want to miss out on benefits you’re owed!
What to Do When Workers’ Comp Doesn’t Cover Your Illness
If workers’ comp doesn’t cover your illness, you might have other options. If your illness qualifies as a disability, you might consider SSDI.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is available to people with a “medically determinable” physical or mental impairment. Just like with workers’ compensation, applying for SSDI is easier with a knowledgeable lawyer.
Contact Us Today
If you have questions about your workers’ compensation claim, don’t hesitate to contact us!
The workers’ compensation lawyers at Casper & Casper are here to answer all your questions and help you determine your next steps. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.