My Love Of The Law

Worker's Compensation Without Injury: How Work-Related Illnesses Are Handled

by Alan Medina

People often think compensation claims happen only when an injury has occurred. Someone falls down, they hurt their back or cut or burn themselves while performing a work-related task. However, compensation for injuries are not the only protection employees have while they are in their workplace. In addition, illnesses can also be covered, assuming they can be proven to have been caused by their job. Here is how that type of decision is made.

Types of Illness Covered

Unlike filing for disability, there is no definitive list of illnesses that are covered under worker's compensation coverage. What an employee must prove is that the health problems they are suffering from are severe enough to prevent them from working, and are related directly to the environment they have been working in. Examples of obvious illnesses that are job-related are cancers from asbestos exposure or respiratory problems resulting from exposure to toxic mold and other harmful chemicals. Stress-induced health problems like heart issues and digestive problems and mental illness can also be covered, if the employee is able to prove they were the direct result of events or conditions at work.

Delayed Onset of Illness

Unlike injuries, illness are not always immediately obvious. A good example is black lung disease, a common problem coal miners experienced. It was not until years after many of these workers left their jobs that their illnesses appeared. What benefited them was the vast number of people who worked the exact same job being diagnosed with the same type of illness.

This is one method of proof that can help people receive compensation decades after they have left their jobs. When an unusual or unexpected diagnosis is received, it is a good idea to research previous employers or talk to past co-workers to determine if others have suffered from the same concerns. A worker's compensation attorney is familiar with this process, and often has easier access to previous court documents or complaints about specific industries or employers. Contacting them may make it easier to get the proof that is needed.

Illness on the Job

Other illnesses appear faster. Someone who is suddenly diagnosed with a rare lung infection may realize this is related to the black mold currently in their workplace. Stress-related health concerns can be proven if workers are able to show they are being subjected regularly to stressful situations or harassment that makes it impossible for them to continue to be at work. Mental illness, like severe depression or PTSD, may be work-related if the employee is being harassed, has witnessed a tragic event at work, or suffered a severe injury in the past that makes them feel unsafe once they return.

Responsibilities of the Employee

An illness must be reported immediately, once it has been diagnosed. It is the responsibility of the employee to prove they are genuinely ill and it is related to either the work they are doing at the time of diagnosis, or from a job they had in the past. As with an injury, the illness must be proven with a statement from a medical doctor, or in the case of mental illness, a letter from a therapist or other mental health professional. It is not enough to just be sick, but to be ill enough that it impedes the ability of the sufferer to continue to earn a living. In addition, there has to be clear proof of its ties to the workplace.

Worker's Compensation vs Disability

Employees with long-term illnesses that will prevent them from returning to work can file for disability while waiting for a decision about worker's compensation. If they will not be able to return at all, they may wish to forgo the compensation claim and stay on disability to prevent any interruption in their payments. This does not take away their ability to file a lawsuit against their former employer, especially if adequate proof is available to show their negligence.

A worker's compensation attorney can provide advice based on each individual case as to what will benefit that particular person and their situation. Since most initial consultations are free, it is worth the time to review the case and any available evidence with an attorney like John J Bublewicz Attorney At Law to see if there is enough information to proceed.