The World Health Organization describes it as "unquestionably the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times." To date, the Ebola outbreak has claimed over 4,000 lives, with approximately 8,400 more probable or suspected cases. And projections for its growth are sobering. Healthmap predicts the number of cases of Ebola worldwide could reach over 18,000 within a few weeks.
What if Ebola spreads to your town? Is it a workers’ compensation risk?
That depends. Before any illness or disease can be considered compensable, it has to pass two key tests:
- Is the illness or disease “occupational,” meaning did it arise out of the course and scope of employment?
- Did the illness or disease arise out of, or was it caused by, conditions “peculiar” to the work?
The “occupational” test
This is the easier of the two tests to pass. Was the employee benefiting the employer when he/she was exposed to the illness or disease? Usually pretty straightforward, but be careful – every state has its own laws and interpretations. In general, if the employee was at work when the illness or disease was contracted, it probably passes this test.
The “peculiar” test
This one is a little stickier. Black lung disease is obviously peculiar to the coal industry because it’s caused by prolonged exposure to high concentrations of coal dust. But the “peculiar” test isn’t that cut and dry with most diseases.
No common measuring stick
Getting illnesses and diseases qualified as compensable can be a long and complex process, usually involving a commission or court that has to wade through the records and separate medical opinion from legal facts. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all test to determine whether an illness or disease is compensable. Every case is decided on its own merits, and the process can drag on for years.
So is Ebola a compensable exposure?
Bottom line – it’s not likely. Unless it can be proven that the employee was at greater risk of contracting Ebola due to the peculiarity of his or her job, it wouldn’t be compensable. Healthcare workers who are forced to be in contact with patients who have the virus have a good case for the increased risk, but beyond that, it’s not likely others would qualify for workers’ compensation coverage for Ebola. It might be the hottest topic in the news, but it’s really no more “occupational” than the common cold.
It can be hard to separate fact from fiction during outbreaks such as the Ebola crisis, and difficult to know how concerned to be. Will the Ebola virus spread across the country and become a threat to your employees? Probably not – but it’s too early to say. The federal government is trying hard to reassure us there’s no real threat. Yet we’ve all seen the news of healthcare workers – sealed up head to toe in protective gear – who have still contracted the virus.
There’s not much you can do about the Ebola crisis, but you should stay tuned to the latest developments. For now, there are plenty of workers’ compensation exposures that are an immediate threat to your business. For the best advice on how to meet those threats and keep your workers’ compensation costs under control, see the New York business insurance experts at BNC Insurance and Risk Advisors.
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