Can You Receive Workers Compensation For Infectious Diseases Or Vaccine Injuries?

If you watch the news, you're probably aware of the recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland in California. The disease, once thought to be mostly eradicated thanks to vaccines, appears to be making something of a comeback. A number of visitors to Disneyland were exposed and brought the disease home to their own communities, prompting more small outbreaks. What's more, a number of Disney employees were infected as well, including some that had previously been vaccinated against measles--which raises the question for others who work with the public: are infectious diseases covered by workers compensation? The thought of being exposed to a dangerous disease at work is frightening enough – having to worry about medical bills and lost wages on top of that would be even worse.

Ordinary Disease of Life, or Compensable Injury?

The laws surrounding workers compensation for infectious diseases vary by state. For example, in South Carolina, workers compensation law specifically excludes "ordinary diseases of life" from being compensated as occupational diseases. That means that if you pick up the flu during cold and flu season, it's unlikely that you'd be able to receive workers compensation for your illness, as you are just as likely to be exposed outside of work as you are at work. In order for a disease to be considered occupational, and therefore compensable under workers compensation, you would need to be able to demonstrate that your working conditions were directly responsible for your exposure.

In a case like the Disneyland measles outbreak, it's clear that the Disney employees were exposed at work, and the nature of their employment certainly put them at far greater risk of exposure than they would have had outside of work. It's been reported that the Disney employees who were infected at work were quickly placed on paid leave, and chances are good that that their medical expenses will be covered by workers compensation.

What if You Declined Vaccinations?

In some fields, employers offer vaccinations against occupational diseases that you would be likely to come in contact with during the course of your employment. This is common in the healthcare field, for example. In some cases (mainly in healthcare settings) employers may mandate certain vaccinations, and employees who refuse may be moved to a position where they have less contact with patients or the public. So, if you opt out of a vaccination offered or mandated by your employer, and then contract the disease, will you still qualify for workers compensation?

The answer is complicated. Employers are somewhat limited in their ability to require vaccinations or proof of vaccinations. Some people are medically unable to receive vaccinations, and mandating that these people be vaccinated anyway would put the employer at risk of a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you're unvaccinated for health reasons, or if your state allows a religious or philosophical exemption to mandated vaccinations, and you are unvaccinated because you chose one of those exemptions, you are most likely still eligible for workers compensation.

What About Vaccine Injuries?

Medically speaking, you're usually better off taking an employer-offered vaccination and avoiding the question of workers compensation entirely by avoiding the disease. However, many people opt out of vaccines due to fear of injury from the vaccine itself. Though vaccine injuries are rare, they do occur. In the wake of the measles epidemic, more employers are opting to offer vaccinations to protect their employees and clientele. If you've been asked by your employer to receive a vaccination, you may be wondering if any injury from the vaccination will be covered by workers compensation as well.

Previous cases suggest that vaccine injuries are compensable under workers compensation. A nurse in Massachusetts who developed Guillain-Barre syndrome as the result of an employer-offered flu shot received workers compensation for her injury in 2005. The court decided that since the vaccination, while optional, benefited the employer as well as the employees who received the shot, the injury was compensable by workers compensation.

If you're dealing with an infectious disease that you believe was contracted at work or a vaccine injury from an employer-provided vaccination, you should consult a workers compensation lawyer familiar with the laws for compensable injuries and illnesses in your state. You can get in touch with a workers compensation lawyer by visiting They can help you pursue workers compensation benefits for your injury.