What Qualifies as a Work Injury?
Workers’ compensation is a system that provides employees with medical treatment and compensation for work-related injuries. If the injured person is unable to work, workers’ compensation provides wage-loss compensation until they are able to return to work. In the event of a work-related death, workers’ compensation pays death benefits to survivors.
To qualify for workers’ comp, the injury must be work-related. What does that mean?
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor tells us, “An employer takes the employee as is and is responsible for medical conditions caused or made worse by employment. An injury or disease must occur while carrying out the interests of the employer. The actual injury or disease does not have to occur on the employer’s premises to be covered by workers’ compensation.”
So, if you have an illness or injury, how do you know if it’s work-related?
A work injury arises out of and is related to a person’s job. This can include direct injuries at work, occupational diseases, occupational illnesses, and aggravation of pre-existing conditions.
In some cases, it’s pretty clear that an injury is work-related, but there are many situations where the answer is not obvious.
Let’s look at a few examples.
If you are a construction worker and fall while you are working at the construction site, do you have a work-related injury?
PROBABLY YES. If the worker is at the worksite, and working at the time they are injured, it should be pretty easy to show that employment caused the injury. (If the person didn’t have that job, they wouldn’t have been at the worksite, and wouldn’t have been injured.)
A worker will not need to show that someone’s negligence caused their injury. The workers’ compensation system is no-fault, meaning you will not need to prove that someone is at fault, only that you were injured because of your employment.
If you are a construction worker and fall while you are working on your own home, do you have a work-related injury?
PROBABLY NO. Although there are certain exceptions, usually if at the time you are injured, you are not at work, and not doing something related to work, your injury will not qualify for workers’ comp.
If you are diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury, like carpal tunnel syndrome, do you have a work-related injury?
MAYBE. Repetitive stress injuries, by definition, happen over a period of time. Although carpal tunnel syndrome is the most well-known example, many kinds of workers can suffer from repetitive stress injuries, including factory workers, home health care aids, and construction workers.
If you are diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury and you think it might be related to a current or past job, it is important to consult a workers’ compensation attorney to help you determine your rights under the law, and if you might have a viable claim.
If you have a pre-existing condition that is aggravated by work, do you have a work-related injury?
PROBABLY YES. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor says that a pre-existing condition that is aggravated by work is considered an injury, for workers’ compensation purposes. If you have an injury or illness that you believe has worsened because of your employment, consult a workers’ compensation attorney for advice about your particular situation.
If you have an earlier work-related disability that recurs causing a later disability, like a back injury, do you have a work-related injury?
PROBABLY YES. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor gives this as an example of an injury for workers’ compensation purposes. If you have a disability that recurs and you believe it is related to your employment, consult a workers’ compensation attorney for advice about your particular situation.
If you caught COVID-19 at work, do you have a work-related injury?
PROBABLY YES. If you were exposed to COVID-19 at work and got sick as a result, you should be covered by workers’ compensation. It may be considered a work-related injury or an occupational disease, but either way, you should qualify for workers’ comp. For more information, you can read the Pennsylvania Department of Labor’s FAQ on Workers’ Comp and Covid, and/or contact a workers’ compensation attorney for advice.
There are certain other situations that are specifically recognized as occupational diseases and are therefore covered by workers’ compensation. Those include:
- Nurses, blood processors, and other professionals exposed to tuberculosis and hepatitis
- Fireman with four or more years of service who have heart or lung disease
- Any worker who has direct contact with or exposure to coal dust who has pneumoconiosis or silicosis
- Workers directly exposed to specific types of chemical poisoning
As you can see, many different types of injuries and illnesses are covered by Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation system.
If you have an illness or injury that might have been caused or aggravated by work, consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible to help you determine your next steps.
Cohen, Feeley, Altemose & Rambo offers free consultations to individuals who have been injured at work. We pride ourselves on fighting for each client’s rights and handling each case with dedication and care. We will review your case and help walk you through every step of the process.