If you work in an office or in a job where you’re in close contact with your co-workers or customers, you know that we’re getting to that dreaded time of the year – flu season. Hopefully you received your flu shot and can avoid contracting a sickness over the course of flu season, but if you do and it knocks you out of work for a few days, can you file for workers’ compensation?
In most cases, getting workers’ compensation for general illnesses is not something that a worker can claim injury compensation for, even if you know for a fact you contracted the cold when Todd from accounting sneezed at your cubicle. Minnesota Statute 176.011, Subd. 15 states that “ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of employment are not compensable, except where the diseases follow as an incident of an occupational disease, or where the exposure peculiar to the occupation makes the disease an occupational disease hazard.”
What this means is that even though the flu might be going around your office, you’re not considered at an elevated risk for contracting the sickness compared to the general population because it’s presumed that the flu isn’t just an issue at your office. Because of this, you’re unable to file for workers’ compensation even if you contracted the flu at work and it keeps you away from your job for a week.
Exceptions To The Law
With that said, the statute also makes mention of some exceptions to the rule. But what exactly does it mean to contract an illness “incident of an occupational disease,” or “where the exposure peculiar to the occupation makes the disease an occupational disease hazard.” As you might imagine, these passages leave the disease and its contraction open to interpretation in terms of whether or not it would be compensable under workers’ compensation, but we’ll try to provide some examples to help make it clearer.
For starters, diseases that are incident to your job include conditions like asbestos exposure, black lung or mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to hazardous materials during your employment. An example would be a firefighter who develops cancer as a result of exposure to carcinogens during their employment. The second exception listed is better example of how certain seasonal illnesses could be covered by workers’ compensation. If the employment of a pilot or flight attendant takes them to London, and they contract the H1N1 virus while the city is dealing with an outbreak, they may be able to seek compensation under workers’ compensation law because they had a greater risk of contracting the disease compared to the general public here in Minnesota as a direct result of their employment.
So while these exceptions may not be used all that frequently, it’s worth talking with an injury lawyer if you believe special circumstances make you eligible for compensation as a result of a employment-acquired disease. If you have questions or want help with your injury case, reach out to Dean Margolis, and try to take some steps to avoid the flu this season, because odds are you won’t be compensated for it.