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Is COVID-19 Infection an Occupational Disease?

On behalf of Brad Wicker of BDIW Law posted on Tuesday October 12, 2021.

As of the fall of 2021, Oklahoma does not consider COVID-19 infection an occupational disease, and therefore COVID-19 illnesses are not compensable under Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation laws.

Workers’ compensation benefits are not just for traumatic injuries resulting from accidents that happen on the job. Any illness or injury is compensable under workers’ compensation laws as long as it occurred at the employee’s workplace while and because the employee was doing their job duties. The laws are this way because work injuries are common in many industries, and it would be prohibitively expensive to go through litigation about negligence every time an employee got injured at work. Injuries and illnesses that begin gradually can also be compensable under workers’ compensation; you can claim that your carpal tunnel syndrome or clinical anxiety is work-related, even if you cannot pinpoint the day it started or a single incident at work that triggered it. While the range of injuries and illnesses considered compensable under workers’ comp has expanded, it is still not possible for Oklahoma workers who become infected with COVID-19 due to unavoidable exposure to the virus at work to have workers’ compensation pay for their treatment. It is not an ideal situation, but the Oklahoma City workers’ compensation lawyers at Boettcher, Devinney, Ingle & Wicker can help you if you are struggling financially because of a work-related illness.

What is an Occupational Disease?

In the context of workers’ compensation law, an occupational disease is an illness of which working in a certain profession carries an inherent risk. For example, mesothelioma is an occupational disease for workers who renovate old buildings and workers in the shipbuilding industry, because the risk of asbestos exposure at those jobs is high. Some states consider all heart and lung diseases compensable for firefighters and law enforcement officers. In order to count as an occupational disease, the health condition must be more common among workers in a certain occupation than in the general population.

Infectious Diseases and Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Laws

Workers’ compensation laws generally do not treat infectious diseases as occupational diseases. Any teacher will tell you that they got more colds and stomach viruses in their first year of teaching than at any other point in their life, but since these infectious diseases are so common in the general population, workers’ comp is not convinced that the exposure took place at work instead of at any of the other places where you interact with people. By this logic, Oklahoma does not consider COVID-19 an occupational disease, not even for healthcare workers, because there is so much transmission of the virus by community spread.

Contact Boettcher, Devinney, Ingle & Wicker About Occupational Disease Claims

Some illnesses are considered occupational diseases in some contexts but not in others. A workers’ compensation lawyer can help you if your employer disagrees with you about whether your illness is compensable under workers’ compensation laws. Contact Boettcher, Devinney, Ingle & Wicker in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma or call (405)886-9660.