The fear of Ebola has understandably generated discussion among medical professionals about infectious diseases and NC workers’ comp. So how does this new threat fit into our workers’ compensation system? Is Ebola covered? The answer lies in looking at how the NC workers’ comp system handles other infectious diseases.
Under narrow circumstances infectious diseases such as such as hepatitis, HIV, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and even Ebola will be covered under NC workers’ compensation law. Not surprisingly the key is proving the relationship between the disease and the employment.
“Ordinary diseases of life” to which the general public is equally exposed are excluded from workers’ compensation coverage in NC. However a condition may be covered as an “occupational disease” if: 1) the worker was at an increased risk of contracting the disease compared to the general public, and 2) the work substantially contributed to the disease. Traditionally, we think about occupational diseases as diseases such as brown lung and asbestosis. Increasingly we are understanding the link between certain chemical and environmental exposures and cancers such as mesothelioma. However infectious diseases can also qualify as an occupational disease, particularly for health care workers, who are obviously exposed to more medical hazards than the public at large.
Common situations where an infectious disease is compensable under the North Carolina workers’ compensation system include needle sticks, exposure to infectious fluids, and health care associated MRSA. So a North Carolina nurse who contracts Ebola while caring for a patient who suffers from the disease would clearly be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in North Carolina. In less clear cases it can be a challenge to proving that an exposure caused the disease.
Another scenario where an infectious disease could be covered by workers’ comp in NC is where the disease is a direct and natural consequence of an injury. So if a worker scrapes his or her hand on the job, and a MRSA infection sets in at the site of the scrape, then that infection would likely be compensable under the NC Workers’ Compensation Act.
So the short answer is a health care worker who contracts Ebola, or any other infectious disease while on the job may have a viable NC workers compensation claim. But the challenge may be proving causation. If you have a question about infectious diseases and NC workers’ comp please call or email for your free consultation with a NC workers’ comp attorney.