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Can I Collect Workers’ Compensation for Catching the Flu at Work?

Sick days are always problematic for both the employer and the employee. Employers lose production and employees lose sick days. If sick days aren’t in the employer’s benefits plan, the employee loses a day’s earnings for every day that he or she is off sick. The flu season in the United States has been devastating this year, and it isn’t even over yet.

Am I Cover For Flu Under California Workers’ Compensation Laws?

Yes, you’re theoretically covered, and that might permit you to obtain wage loss benefits if you don’t have paid sick leave. That can operate to keep an employee at home and protect from infecting other workers with the virus. Don’t rely on workers’ compensation benefits to pay for your wage loss though for such an illness. Even if a person is hospitalized or dies from flu, proving where it came from is incredibly problematic.

California Workers’ Compensation Benefits

In the context of a bout with the flu, two key workers’ compensation benefits come into play. The first is payment of your medical bills. The second is payment of your lost wages if you are physically unable to work as a result of your illness. In order to qualify for those benefits, California workers’ compensation laws require you to be able to prove that your flu was directly caused by your job. It must have arisen out of the scope and course of your employment. It’s extremely unlikely that an affected employee will be able to show that. It’s equally unlikely that an employee would be able to prove that he or she came down with flu from a co-worker as opposed to the virus having passed someplace else. Also, you’re required to miss three days of work as a result of a work-related injury or illness before you can begin collecting benefits for lost earnings. In many cases, a person with flu symptoms is able to return to work in three or four days.

Special Exposure is Required

California appellate courts have been consistent in affirming the denial of workers compensation benefits for the flu for about 75 years. In the case of Marsh vs. IAC, is was held that “an ailment does not become an occupational disease simply because it is contracted on the employer’s premises. It must be one which is commonly regarded as natural to, inherent in, and incident and concomitant to the work in question.” So, if the employer does not pay for sick days, won’t other employees get flu because the infected worker has to appear at his or her job? The California Supreme Court ruled on this issue in Bethlehem Steel Company vs. Industrial Accident Commission in 1943. It held that “when an employee contracts a contagious or infectious disorder he must, in order to recover compensation, establish the fact that he was subjected to some special exposure in excess of that of the commonality, and in the absence of such showing, the illness cannot be said to have been proximately caused from an injury arising out of his employment.”

In a perfect world, flu is compensable under California workers compensation laws, but a claimant must show a condition specific to where he or she works that substantially increased the possibility of getting the flu. Even a school teacher in California sought workers compensation benefits for flu. The court reasoned that being around sick kids every day was part of the job. Judges get flu too, and they can’t pinpoint where they got it from either. As per other serious occupational diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Hodgkin’s disease, silicosis, mesothelioma, lead poisoning or occupational asthmas in or around Sacramento, we’ll be pleased to speak with you.