The Zika virus has been all over the news for the past few months as new cases erupted across South and Central America. Although the virus has not reached the U.S., it could still play a role in workers’ compensation claims for businesses with workers doing work in areas affected by the virus. Under the workers’ compensation system, workers are eligible to receive benefits for both injuries and occupational diseases. If it was clear that a worker contracted the Zika virus as a direct result of working, for instance, being stationed for their job in a country where the virus is known to be a threat. Atlanta workers that travel frequently for their jobs should be aware of the health implications and speak to a workers’ compensation attorney if they have questions regarding diseases contracted while working.
What Is The Zika Virus?Transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, the Zika virus is an infectious disease only recently documented in human cases. People affected by the virus usually experience symptoms lasting between two and seven days, and include fever, skin rashes, malaise or headache, conjunctivitis, and muscle/joint pain. In the recent outbreak the virus has been associated with high rates of microcephaly in babies. There is currently no treatment or vaccine against the virus and the best prevention is currently preventing mosquito bites.
Workers’ Compensation and Infectious DiseasesZika virus presents potential concerns for employers and the workers’ compensation system, as workers stationed in countries like Brazil where the virus is prevalent may contract it. Some of the concerns employers have regarding workers’ compensation for Zika virus include:
- Workers’ Compensation Claims for Employees on Assignment – There would, of course, need to be clear documentation that a worker contracted the virus through work, but employers may face claims for employees on short assignments (ranging from 30-60 days) in countries where there is a risk of exposure.
- Claims for Injuries to Family Members – Since one of the major effects of the virus involves a health risk to babies, the employer should be weary of sending any women who are pregnant or may become pregnant to countries on the warning list for the virus. Newborn claims for birth defects could fall under the general liability of employers.
- Foreign Voluntary Workers’ Compensation (FVWC) – Volunteers may be eligible for a limited amount of FVWC coverage, but would require either the CDC or WHO to designate the disease as indigenous to the country where the volunteer was stationed.