While concerns about diseases like Ebola and HIV/AIDS are not in the news as much as they were before, they are still a big concern in other countries around the world.

But even though these two particular diseases may not be a big concern for people here in New Jersey, how the state’s workers’ compensation system deals with infectious diseases, in general, may be well worth the consideration.

Infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, MRSA, and others may very well be compensable under New Jersey workers’ compensation laws, most certainly under the right circumstances.

Ordinary Diseases of Life vs. Occupational Diseases

Ordinary diseases of life” such as the common cold or flu and other infectious diseases that the general public is equally susceptible of contracting, are not compensable under workers’ compensation. However, depending on the circumstances an infectious disease may be compensable under workers’ compensation as an occupational disease.

The Department of Labor and Industries defines an occupational disease as “any disease or illness that arises naturally and proximately out employment”. This essentially includes any disease contracted due to exposure to risk factors in the workplace or that arise out of your work activities.

Common examples of occupational diseases include:

  • Silicosis
  • Work-related asthma
  • Asbestosis
  • Brown lung disease
  • Poisonings due to heavy metals and pesticides
  • Occupational dermatitis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

In addition, cancers such as mesothelioma are now considered occupational diseases due to our greater understanding of the link between exposure to certain chemical and substances and workers being diagnosed with these diseases much later in their lives.

Workers’ Compensation for an Infectious Diseases as an Occupational Diseases

For any illness to compensable as an occupational disease two primary criteria must be met:

  1. Your job must have put you at a greater risk of being exposed to the illness than the general public
  2. The work you do must have substantially contributed to you contracting the illness.

If the manner in which you contracted the infectious diseases meet these two criteria, it may be compensable under workers’ compensation as an occupational disease. The workers to which this exception most readily applies are health care workers, who are undoubtedly more exposed to disease and illnesses than the general public.

Typical scenarios that would render an infectious disease compensable under the New Jersey workers’ compensation system include, being stuck by a hypodermic needle; coming into contact with blood, tissue or other body fluid that is potentially infected; and exposure to health care-associated infection such as MRSA.

So, for example, a New Jersey nurse who contracted Ebola while taking care of a patient who suffers from Ebola, would clearly be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in New Jersey. In less obvious cases, it can be difficult to prove that the exposure actually caused the disease.

Another example of when an infectious disease may be compensable under workers’ compensation in New Jersey is when the disease is a direct and natural result of a work-related injury. So, if a worker cuts himself on an object at work and later developed an MRSA infection in that wound, that infection would be compensable under workers’ compensation in New Jersey.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line with regards to infectious disease and workers’ compensation in New Jersey is that an infectious disease may be compensable under the New Jersey workers’ compensation laws. But only if you can prove a link between the disease and the environment in which you work or the duties you are required to perform.

For more information regarding workers’ compensation for infectious diseases in New Jersey, contact an experienced New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney. Strict time limits apply to workers’ compensation claims, so call today for a free and confidential consultation.