Can Healthcare Workers Receive Workers Compensation For Job-Borne Illnesses?

You may already be aware that your employer pays workers compensation insurance that may help pay your medical bills and lost wages if you're injured on the job. But when your job requires exposure to blood-borne pathogens on a daily basis, when and how does workers compensation kick in? The recent news stories about the Ebola virus rendering an entire hospital vulnerable underscore the difficulty of fighting a potentially deadly virus. Read on to learn more about how workers compensation laws affect those who work in healthcare facilities.

What must you show to receive workers compensation payments?

In general, to receive workers compensation you must be able to demonstrate that your injury or illness was directly caused by a condition of your employer or was the result of following specific instructions from your employer. If your injury took place outside of your place of employment, it may be covered under certain conditions. For example, if you are injured while commuting to work, or while on an unscheduled lunch break, you may not be eligible for workers compensation -- but if you are injured while running an errand at your employer's direction, you may be eligible.

How is the healthcare field different from others?

Those in the healthcare industry are exposed to unique and specific risks. Workers compensation insurance for healthcare workers is generally higher than insurance for office workers (however, because this insurance is paid by the employer, it is simply factored into total employee compensation). Although employees are aware of the risks posed by patients they are in contact with, and have accepted this risk as part of the job, any lost wages or healthcare costs incurred as a result to workplace exposure to illness are still eligible for workers compensation.

The difficulty often lies in showing that the exposure to an illness happened through one's employment, rather than elsewhere. In addition, minor or common illnesses that most employees are exposed to (such as the common cold or even the flu) may not render you eligible for workers compensation.

How can you prove that an illness was caused through exposure at work?

In some cases, such as the recent Ebola outbreak, an illness is so rare in a country or region that the only individuals exposed (and potentially in danger) are those who were intimate with the patient or those who assisted in his or her treatment. To show that your illness is the result of performing tasks required by your employer, you may need to answer the following questions:

  • How common is the illness?
    • If the illness is common in your area, it may be difficult to argue that you were exposed while caring for a patient rather than exposed while using a public restroom or waiting in line at the post office.
    • One exception may be if you were inadvertently stuck with a needle or other potentially infectious device.
  • Did you receive adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for treating all patients?
    • The Ebola outbreak in several hospitals underscored the need for updated PPE regulations and supplies when dealing with certain infectious diseases. If you're infected with an illness because your employer didn't provide adequate protections, not only are you eligible for workers compensation, you may also have a civil lawsuit on your hands.
  • Will your condition require future care?
    • If you believe your condition has been caused by workplace exposure, be sure to keep all associated documentation of medical expenses and lost wages, as well as any documents from your doctor that indicate whether your illness will require ongoing care. Your workers compensation payments may last longer if you have a chronic or long-term illness, as compared to a brief one.