10/22/14 – The Boston Globe recently ran a story titled “Mass. Nurses worry about Ebola preparedness” after two healthcare workers in Texas were diagnosed with Ebola that they contracted while caring for a patient who carried the virus. The Globe quoted Donna Kelly-Williams, President of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, as having noted that the only people who have contracted the virus within the United States have been nurses.
In the context of workers’ compensation law, the Globe’s article highlights the fact that healthcare professionals are uniquely exposed to contagious diseases. What happens when the risk becomes reality?
A common misconception that I encounter is that workers’ compensation only covers orthopedic injuries such as a torn rotator cuff or a bulged disc. In fact, the Massachusetts workers’ compensation law covers any “personal injury,” and that term has a very broad definition so that just about any health condition may be covered.
When dealing with contagious diseases including viruses or infections, what matters for workers’ compensation purposes is whether the risk of being exposed to the disease is a basic part of the employment. So, for example, a machine operator who contracts a virus from a coworker is probably not covered by workers’ compensation because exposure to the virus was not a fundamental part of being a machinist. On the other hand, a nurse or doctor who cares for contagious patients probably is covered by workers’ comp. because the risk of exposure is a basic part of the job.
If covered, workers’ compensation provides injured workers with weekly payments for lost wages as well as medical care. While the risk of contracting a disease like Ebola is certainly rare, healthcare workers are exposed to other contagious diseases every day. Thankfully, the workers’ compensation laws protects these workers even in cases where the exposure could have been avoided by proper safety measures.
If you lost time from work or required medical care due to an illness that you were exposed to at work and would like to find out if it can be covered by workers’ compensation, please call me at 508-821-4363 for a free consultation.
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