Healthcare workers who contract Ebola while caring for patients will be covered under most states’ workers’ compensation laws. However, non-healthcare employees who are infected by a co-worker may have a more difficult time establishing eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits even though the illness occurred at the workplace and during work hours because Ebola is not “peculiar” to the non-healthcare occupation.
To the extent that an employee contracts Ebola because he or she violated the employer’s protocols, an employer may have grounds to defend. Generally, the legal standard required for such disqualifications is quite high – employers must demonstrate that the employee engaged in “willful misconduct.” In many states, negligence or even gross negligence is insufficient for workers’ compensation disqualification. If the employer clearly articulated and strongly emphasized its safety rules regarding Ebola prevention to its employees, it may be possible to demonstrate “willful misconduct” on the part of employees who breach the safety rules.
If you plan to challenge an employee’s claim for workers’ compensation, here are a few practical considerations:
- Ebola is a hot-button issue in the mainstream media and social media. Challenging an employee’s workers’ compensation claim after contracting Ebola at work may result in negative PR for the employer.
- Other employees may react in a counterproductive way, such as not reporting breaches of safety protocol or shying away from performing certain job duties that they perceive to be unsafe.
- The small cost savings that an employer may gain from challenging a workers’ compensation claim may not be worth it.