There is likely no human alive today who can boast of never having been sick. Some illnesses, such as the common cold, take people out of the workplace for a day or two at the most. Other illnesses, however, can leave a person unable to work for weeks, if not months, which can force him or her to rely on the Family and Medical Leave Act. But what happens when the illness was caused by something the worker was exposed to while on the job and what happens if the illness lasts years or is permanent in nature?
Illnesses are covered by workers’ compensation, just the same as workplace accidents, but only those illnesses that are deemed to be occupational diseases are covered. While the statute specifically lists a number of eligible diseases, such as Anthrax exposure and mercury poisoning, there is a catch-all provision for other types of illnesses. This catch-all provision excludes all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed, but also includes any disease that is proven to be a result of a peculiar trade, occupation or employment.
Under North Carolina law, workers are paid 2/3% of their wages for the time that they are off from work due to injury or illness that qualifies for workers’ compensation. The payments start after a worker has been unable to work for more than seven days. If a person is found to be permanently totally disabled, he or she will continue to receive the same compensation. Those who are permanently but partially disabled must rely upon the rating that their doctor gives to them. This rating determines the amount of money to be awarded for a person’s workplace illness.
Overall, North Carolina is becoming a healthier place, at least in the workplace. Since 1999, the rate of workplace injuries and illnesses has dropped from 5.7 percent to 2.9 percent per 100 workers.