Recognizing and Claiming Occupational Disease Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Contracting the flu or a cold at work is a relatively common occurrence. But your employer may be financially responsible when you contract an illness due to your workplace’s unique environmental conditions or hazards. Knowing the key differences can help you determine whether or not to involve a workers’ comp lawyer.

So, when is an illness an “occupational disease” that would allow you to claim compensation? Read on to learn how to recognize an occupational illness and claim occupational disease workers’ compensation benefits below. 

What Is an Occupational Disease? 

As an employee in California, you likely can access workers’ compensation benefits through your employer. Any time you experience an injury while performing your job duties, you can submit a claim to cover your medical bills and resulting expenses. You likely already know that much.

While workers’ compensation covers almost any on-the-job injury, it treats illnesses differently. You can’t seek medical benefits for every illness you contract at work, as tracing illnesses like the flu or the common cold to your job is next to impossible. 

Instead, your illness must qualify as an occupational disease for you to seek compensation. An occupational disease is a direct result of your job’s environment or conditions. If you work a job that makes you more prone to certain types of illnesses and contract one of those diseases, your employer may owe you workers’ compensation. 

Examples of Occupational Disease

Occupational diseases vary across industries and are recognizable by an equally wide range of symptoms, depending on the circumstances and length of exposure. Common examples include the following:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (from labor-intensive jobs)
  • Mesothelioma and asbestosis (from jobs that expose employees to asbestos)
  • Hearing loss (from jobs with loud machinery)
  • Skin cancer (from occupations requiring workers to handle harsh chemicals)
  • Respiratory illnesses and asthma (from jobs with airborne pollutants)
  • Radiation poisoning (from occupations that expose workers to high levels of radiation)

Proving an Illness Is Occupational

Before you can submit compensation claims for occupational diseases, you must have sufficient proof tying your illness to your occupation. A workers’ compensation attorney can help you understand the types of evidence that might support your case. 

Generally, you’ll need to prove these four points as part of your occupational disease claim:

  1. You have a serious, medically diagnosed illness. 
  2. A hazard or toxin caused the illness. 
  3. Your workplace or job responsibilities exposed you to the hazard or toxin. 
  4. You experienced financial damages from the illness. 

The first point is relatively easy — you’ll just need a physician to diagnose the condition in writing. But showing that a specific hazard your workplace exposed you to caused the illness can be more challenging. 

Illnesses like cancer, hearing loss, and respiratory diseases can occur from various causes, and your diagnosis may be coincidental. You’ll have a better chance of proving this connection if: 

  • You can point to other injured employees with the same illness. 
  • You or other injured workers have alerted your employer to the presence of the hazard, yet they failed to mitigate it. 
  • The illness commonly results from specific exposure (such as asbestos and mesothelioma).
  • Your condition is rare or unexpected.

Claiming Occupational Disease Workers’ Compensation Benefits

If you believe you have an occupational illness and it is impacting your ability to work or creating extensive medical bills, you can file a workers’ compensation claim with your employer. Be sure you fully understand the process before you begin and work with a qualified workers’ compensation attorney to improve your claim outcomes. 

Understand the Statute of Limitations

In California, you must file an occupational disease claim within 30 days of learning about the illness. If you have already exceeded this time frame, you must provide a solid reason for the delay in your claim application. 

Thirty days go by very quickly, especially when dealing with the stress of a new illness. Don’t wait to file your claim — doing so could make you ineligible for benefits.

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