Employees exposed to Ebola may be eligible for workers’ comp

With the recent Ebola outbreak continuing in West Africa and beginning to make appearances stateside - including a recent suspected case involving a New York physician - the issue of workers' compensation benefits for occupational exposure to the virus has never been more relevant.

In New York, workers who suffer work-related injuries are usually entitled to financial benefits through the workers' compensation system. The same is true for certain illnesses that a worker develops as a result of occupational exposure, which in some cases may include Ebola.

As with any other infectious disease, health care workers are among those most likely to face a heightened risk of encountering Ebola in the course of employment. Exposed doctors, nurses and other medical providers who become ill as a result of working with infected patients thus may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits.

In addition to medical personnel, other individuals whose work could potentially put them at an increased risk of contracting the Ebola virus include journalists, airport personnel, emergency responders, and others who work closely with infected individuals.

Death benefits for families

Considering that the fatality rate among those infected with Ebola's is very high - around 50 percent at best - another important issue is the availability of monetary benefits for certain family members of workers whose infections prove fatal. If a worker dies as a result of an Ebola infection contracted in the course of employment, his or her dependents may be entitled to death benefits through the New York workers' compensation system.

Typically, death benefits are available to the surviving spouse and/or minor children of a New York worker who dies of work-related causes. In certain situations, however, other individuals may also be eligible to receive death benefits. These benefits are typically based on a portion of the deceased worker's previous income and are paid out on a weekly basis. Additional benefits may be available to offset funeral expenses.

Applying for benefits in New York

A worker who becomes infected with Ebola while employed by a New York company must apply for workers' compensation benefits in New York, regardless of where in the world he or she was exposed or became ill. The same is true for families seeking death benefits when a worker dies.

New Yorkers who develop occupational illnesses or injuries, as well as the surviving family members of those who have died from occupational causes, are encouraged to seek help and legal advice from a workers' compensation lawyer.