Are infectious diseases acquired at work eligible for workers’ compensation?

Sometimes exposure to infectious diseases through airborne respiratory droplets, blood, or other person-to-person contact at work results in an illness.

This is most common in industries like health care and special education. For example, a nurse might be stuck by a used needle, a doctor may treat a patient infected with COVID-19, a maintenance worker could be exposed when doing clean-up, or a special education instructor might sustain a bite that breaks the skin.

So, what happens if you do catch a virus at work or develop a disease that might be related to your job? Is it considered a work injury?

State laws define 'occupational diseases'

State laws differ on the subject.

Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska law distinguish between “ordinary diseases of life” and “occupational diseases.”

Minnesota law says, “ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of employment are not compensable … Except where the exposure is peculiar to the occupation.” Iowa and Nebraska law contain similar language.

Wisconsin and South Dakota law do not contain similar language, but both look to the particular job activities.

So, when is it considered an “occupational disease,” which is covered by workers’ compensation?

One example would be when the person’s employment increased the risk of a “proximately caused” disease. For example, one well-known case was the airline flight attendant who came down with the Hong Kong Flu after stopping in that country during a virulent outbreak.

As with most legal questions, determining whether an illness is compensable will depend heavily on the facts of each specific case.

Temporary state laws address first responders with COVID-19

If first responders in Minnesota or Wisconsin are infected with COVID-19, the infection may be presumed work related under temporary laws.

The Minnesota law covers first responders, health care workers and those who provide child care for these groups. It became effective April 8, 2020, and has a sunset provision of May 1, 2021. Read our blog post on the Minnesota first responder law for more details.

The Wisconsin law covers first responders. It became effective April 17, 2020, and will end 30 days after the Public Health Emergency Executive Orders expire. Read our blog post on the Wisconsin first responder law for details.

What to do when an employee’s been exposed to infection

Because it can sometimes take extensive time and testing to determine whether the exposure resulted in infection, sometimes employers are unsure what to do during that time in regard to workers’ compensation.

Two steps to take:

  • Report the exposure to your workers’ compensation insurer as soon as you learn of it.
    It will likely start as an incident-only report, and it’s possible it will never result in a claim. But in the event it does, details from the initial report could be helpful in determining liability. That determination is based on whether the facts prove the exposure occurred in the workplace and whether their risk for exposure was greater than that of a member of the general public due to their work activity.
  • Follow your company’s policy on what to do when an exposure occurs.
    Have one point person assigned to make sure that all of the necessary tests and treatments take place. Workers’ compensation benefits typically do not cover the costs of medical tests following exposure, wage loss if quarantined, or preventive measures like hepatitis vaccines or flu shots. If your company isn’t experienced in dealing with exposure events, reach out to your company’s preferred medical clinic or another medical provider that you have a relationship with for guidance.

More resources on infectious diseases and work

To learn more about what to do if an employee is exposed to an infectious disease in the workplace, use these guides:

This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.

0 Comments

  • Am I able to get worker compensation if I caught a stomach virus from another coworker at work? A fellow coworker and I had to go to the hospital due to similar symptoms but I had it worst. I missed 2 weeks off work. My work takes away our paid time off and unpaid time When we miss work but I only missed work due to their poor attendance system which doesn’t encourage a healthy work place.

  • I am an Rn . I am 64 years old . I have been working with Covid patients for 6 weeks . After becoming more short of breath with chest pain I have been diagnosed with bilateral viral pneumonia. My Covid test is negative . My doctor wonders if I had it a month ago when my symptoms started . She wants me to stay home and repeat the CXR in 2 weeks . I wonder if I can file a Workman’s Comp case .

  • We would recommend that you file a workers’ compensation claim. You claim representative can then get the information from you that will be needed to determine if claim would be considered compensable under workers’ compensation.

  • Very helpful.

  • I contracted fungal rash on my hands from working a job that requires me to constantly be washing my hands doing “wet” work. It’s a food industry job. A few weeks back on the job I was dumping mushrooms into our possessing line when I encountered a bunch of moldy mushrooms. Was instructed to go threw remove all the moldy ones putting them in a large pallet size box so that it could be weighed to determine how to proceed with their mushroom supplier. I have a weak immune system as I take humara 2ce a month for psoriasis. Humara lowers your immune system. So I contracted a infectious disease from an accusation makes work hazard. Was forced to go home not to return without dr note. I return next morning work till 1 when I’m sent home early again told not to return until Monday and at the description of their medical staff. Can I file a claim for being put out of work due to a work related issue?

  • If you feel the condition and time missed from work is related to your work activities, contact your employer to file a First Report of Injury form. Your employers’ workers’ compensation insurer can then review this information and determine if this is considered a work-related injury and workers’ compensation benefits are owed.

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