What happens if you are exposed to Ebola at work?
Are you afraid of Ebola? The idea of an infectious virus wiping out huge population centers and killing Americans is scary and even the most reasonable people have fear. But let’s think about it for a minute. If you are afraid of Ebola, I suggest that you WEAR YOUR SEATBELT. You are infinitely more likely to die or be injured in a truck or car accident than to contract Ebola in the United States. In fact, Ebola is statistically nearly non-existent here. The media in the United States thrives on fear stories, and this is a perfect example.
As a result of this media coverage and with the Ebola virus dominating the 24 hour news cycle, we can’t help but think about the implications of the virus spreading out of control here. So what is the law? For instance, does workers’ compensation cover workers who are exposed to Ebola on the job? Considering the present day circumstances, healthcare workers exposed to Ebola in the course and scope of their employment, much like the two Texas healthcare workers who tested positive for the virus after treating the first patient diagnosed in the US, would have a compensable workers’ compensation claim.
They would get paid Temporary Total Disability while quarantined and if they were to die, their financial dependents would be entitled to death benefits under the Act. All medical bills authorized by the employer would be paid. Workers outside of the healthcare industry would have a harder time making their case, as will healthcare workers if the disease becomes widespread as the burden of proving where the exposure occurred is on the Claimant.
In order for an occupational illness or disease to be compensable under work comp laws, the worker must have contracted the illness from the workplace and the illness must be particular and distinctive to course and scope of the job. A precedent for this would be healthcare workers who contract HIV or Hepatitis after being exposed to infected blood.
On a political note, why are we allowing Ebola patients to come here? It does not seem smart or in our best interests, but it may be smart and is certainly ethical. The reason we allow these patients here is that infected people will seek help wherever and however they can, and if we don’t allow Americans to come here with Ebola they will find another way to return and may even secretly reenter our country. These moves will be asymmetric, and like fighting terrorists, is very difficult to fight an asymmetric war of any kind. These infected folks will be hard to track and the disease will spread even more in Africa and will be more likely to appear here. So as distasteful and as difficult as it may be to accept, allowing some patients here makes sense to me.