If you're injured or sick, regardless of how it happened, your first priority should always be to see a doctor and take the steps to start getting better. However, getting better takes time and could result in a loss of work and medical costs. If your injury or illness happened while you were at work, you may qualify for workers' compensation that can help you take care of some of these expenses.
Understanding workers' comp can feel daunting. Here at Accident.com, we want to make sure you know what workers' comp classifies as an injury so you and your lawyer can pursue a claim that's right for you.
What Does "Injured at Work" Mean?
"Work" is not limited to one location. Laws usually define it as everything from the time you start work through the time your shift ends. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers an illness to be work-related even if work contributed to a condition. This includes aggravating a pre-existing condition.
Physical Injuries - What Workers' Comp Covers
Work injuries can be minor or major. It could be a scrape from a fall while you were taking the garbage out. It could also be trauma from a car accident while driving for work. The injuries could even be severe like an amputation from a machine or a broken bone.
Most of the time, physical injuries are clear. If you drop a heavy box on your toe at work and need an X-ray, the medical records will show the problem. Sometimes though, the accident makes a chronic condition worse or the injury takes longer to appear.
For example, work-related injuries include stress fractures, repetitive motion injuries and injuries from overuse. Neck or back pain may also be covered, even if you have a history of other similar pain. The issue your attorney will focus on is proving that your work made this pre-existing issue worse.
It's important to note that workers' compensation doesn't cover all injuries though.
Injuries are not covered if they're self-inflicted or if they happened during horseplay. Otherwise, workers' comp covers physical injuries from big to small. You have a right to medical treatment, whether that is hospitalization, urgent care or first aid.
Workers' comp benefits also cover certain sicknesses and mental health conditions if they are because of work.
Non-Physical "Injuries" Can Also Qualify
A workers' compensation "injury" also includes getting sick at work and forming mental health issues. There are some blurry areas though. Many states such as Virginia exclude common diseases that the public is exposed to. State laws are different in how they decide what is related to work. An attorney can help you navigate your state-specific rules.
In general though, workers' compensation doesn't cover widespread illnesses. Some states define a general widespread sickness as an “ordinary disease of life.” These types of sicknesses include a cold, the flu, general anxiety and depression.
These illnesses are so widespread in society that it can be difficult to prove how an employee got sick. However, there are many exceptions to this rule.
One exception is COVID-19. Many states, including Minnesota and Utah, passed laws to protect essential employees like health care workers and first responders. If those employees get COVID-19, the states assume they got it while at work. Some states such as Florida also have laws that cover mental health care for first responders who have post-traumatic stress disorder.
Other sicknesses are covered by workers' comp if they're considered "occupational diseases." (More on this below.) However, you must prove that the sickness is directly related to your work. Some of these sicknesses include:
- AIDS and HIV.
Despite the broad coverage of workers' compensation, it can still sometimes be difficult to prove your injuries happened at work. Before pursuing a claim though, remember to get any urgent help you need. Talk with doctors and mental health professionals right away. Your well-being is the most important matter to address.
Then contact Accident.com to connect with an attorney to help you submit your claim for compensation.
What Are Occupational Diseases?
“Occupational diseases” is a term some states like Ohio use for illnesses caused by the work environment themselves. Exposure to some conditions, particularly for a long period of time, could cause an occupational disease. These conditions could include:
- Plants or other substances that can cause skin diseases.
- Dust, gasses or other air particles.
- Infections and organisms.
- Extreme temperature changes.
An example of an occupational disease is black lung. This is a condition that coal mine workers develop after a prolonged period of exposure to coal dust. Other examples, in addition to the ones stated above, could include:
- Contact dermatitis.
- Lead poisoning.
All of these examples would fall under workers' comp if they resulted from conditions while on the job.
The Job Exposed You to the Illness
Other jobs such as nursing or in-home care can expose employees to other types of sickness not directly related to job conditions. For example, a needle may prick a nurse at work. He may be exposed to a drop of blood that has a common disease. If the nurse got the same illness that was in the blood, he would have a strong claim for workers' compensation.
Another example is hearing. Many people lose hearing as they get older. However, hearing loss can result from work. Loud noises can injure the ear and permanently damage hearing. Jobs that have a lot of loud noise should require employees to wear hearing protection like earplugs.
However, even moderately loud noises can still harm hearing. It usually takes more time for moderate loudness to do damage. You may not wear earplugs because the noise doesn't seem loud. Over time though, that moderate noise can permanently hurt your hearing. In these types of jobs, an employee may not have to wear hearing protection. Workers' comp would cover the employee in this situation.
Don't Wait. Speak With an Attorney Today About Workers' Compensation
Any time that you get injured or sick, your first step should always be to speak with your doctor. However, because workers' compensation is different from state to state, knowing your next step can be tricky.
Remember that you aren't alone. An attorney who is familiar with these laws can help you navigate the minefield and give you the peace of mind to focus on getting well. Reach out to Accident.com today and speak with an attorney in your area. Time may be running out to file your claim, so don't wait!