If you’ve contracted a disease in your workplace, you may be wondering if it’s time to consult an Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer.
The answer to whether a workplace disease is covered under Georgia workers’ compensation benefits is complicated.
Making matters more difficult, the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the health and safety of many people across all industries, anywhere workers must gather in a shared workspace without being able to perform their duties remotely.
Whether it’s the danger of a novel virus such as COVID-19 or another disease you’ve contracted on the job, it’s crucial to know your rights when it comes to workers’ compensation.
With some workplace injuries, there may be a clear causal connection between the duties you perform as an employee and a workplace accident. This makes proving your case to the insurance company much more straightforward.
However, there are times the burden of proof for linking a disease or illness to the workplace can be difficult to meet.
Whether a disease, illness, or infection qualifies for workers’ comp benefits depends on a myriad of factors specific to each case.
Let’s discuss all of the factors when it comes to occupational diseases, and when it might be time to retain the services of an Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer.
How Georgia Defines Occupational Diseases
In a majority of cases, injured workers must prove to an administrative law judge that their illness is caused by their workplace by a greater than 50/50 chance.
This can be more difficult to prove than other types of workplace injuries. This is because you must prove you weren’t equally exposed to the illness outside of the workplace.
Some examples of occupational illnesses covered by Georgia workers’ comp include:
- Asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer and other cancers
- Byssinosis, or brown lung, caused by exposure to cotton dust
- Certain cancers or other debilitating illnesses or conditions caused by long-term exposure to chemicals in the workplace
Georgia has a stringent Occupational Disease statute pursuant to OCGA Section 34-9-280(2):
Disease which arises out of and in the course of the particular trade, occupation, process, or employment in which the employee is exposed to such disease, provided the employee or the employee’s dependents first prove to the satisfaction of State Board of Workers’ compensation all of the below:
(A) A direct causal connection between the conditions under which the work is performed and the disease
(B) That the disease followed as a natural incident of exposure by reason of the employment
(C) That the disease is not of a character to which the employee may have had substantial exposure outside of the employment
(D) That the disease is not an ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed
(E) That the disease must appear to have had its origin in a risk connected with the employment and to have flowed from that source as a natural consequence
Your doctor must be able to provide medical proof for your claim based on the above criteria in order for you to qualify for benefits.
Does COVID-19 Qualify You for Workers’ Compensation?
The answer, unfortunately, is most likely not.
This is because COVID-19 is considered to have community spread outside the workplace and is not specific to a certain work environment.
Additionally, Georgia is not one of the states that have extended workers’ comp protections to presume COVID-19 infections are work-related for first responders, such as health care workers, mass transit, grocery store workers, and others who face a sudden increased risk of contracting COVID-19 at work.
In other words, though there is an increased risk of contracting the virus in the workplace, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, based on Georgia’s current legislation.
However, there are some specific instances where you may have a case for workers’ compensation as a first responder. If you have been infected with COVID-19 and can clearly connect your exposure to your workplace, you may have a workers’ comp case.
You will need to provide:
- A doctor statement that indicates the infection was more than likely contracted at the workplace
- A timeline showing when you came into contact with a documented infected person, and that you came down with the infection within the known incubation period for that disease.
What Precautions Should You Take in the Workplace for COVID-19?
Workers and their employers should take certain precautions if they must work in a shared work space and cannot perform their jobs remotely.
The CDC outlines recommendations for workplaces and avoiding exposure to COVID-19. These include:
- Employees with symptoms should notify their supervisor, quarantine at home, and consult with a health care provider about when to return to work.
- Employees with a sick family member should notify their supervisor, then follow CDC precautions.
- If possible, virtual or socially-distanced health checks are recommended before employees enter the workplace.
- Employees and employers should be educated about the risks and safe practices such as disinfecting surfaces, wearing masks or other PPE, socially distancing, avoiding touching the face, eyes, nose, or mouth, etc.
When to Call Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyers
Due to the difficulty of proving an occupational illness, the right workers’ compensation lawyer can act as an advocate on your behalf and increase your chances of a positive outcome for your case.
The increased risks to your health during the COVID-19 pandemic can compound these challenges. A qualified attorney can help you navigate the process of seeking workers’ comp benefits for an occupational illness.
An initial consultation with Affleck & Gordon is free—and can be done remotely from the safety of your home.
If you’re thinking about filing for workers’ compensation and don’t know where to start, Affleck & Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for over 40 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 795-4972.