Occupational disease is a disease or ailment resulting from the unique characteristics of a person’s line of employment.  It is also referred to as “occupational illness”.  One of the main requirements for occupational disease claims is that the person’s line of work exposes them to risk factors that are different from those that the general public is exposed to.

Occupational disease may often result in workers compensation, although it is generally different from a disability claim.  In an occupational disability claim, the injury or illness is usually the result of long-term exposure to factors in the work environment, such as toxic chemicals.  Unlike with disability claims, an employee usually can’t file an occupational disease claim for one-time traumatic events. 

What are Some Examples of Occupational Diseases?

The most common examples of occupational disease or occupational illness involve long-term exposure to toxic substances.  For example, asbestosis and mesothelioma (caused by exposure to asbestos) are often the subjects of occupational disease lawsuits. 

Other examples of occupational disease may include:

  • Respiratory illnesses such as asthma or bronchitis
  • Certain types of cancers
  • Skin diseases such as skin cancer, severe sunburn, or eczema
  • Various types of poisoning such as lead poisoning or pesticide poisoning
  • Rarer diseases like pneumoconiosis (associated with coal mining) and byssinosis (associated with the cotton textile industry)

If the employee is experiencing symptoms that are somewhat commonplace, they’ll need to prove that they became ill on account of their work and not some unrelated factors. 

Can Diseases That are Unrelated to the Work be Claimed as an Occupational Disease?

Usually not- the laws governing occupational disease claims usually require the illness to be either directly caused by the type of work or very closely associated with the nature of the work.  In other words, the disease must be a result of the employee’s specific type of work.

For example, suppose that an employer has contracted for painters to paint the inside of their business office, and a secretary becomes ill due to the painting.  The secretary the might be able to file a disability claim, but not an occupational disease claim, since their job is unrelated to the painting.  On the other hand, a painter may be able to file an occupational disease claim if they were exposed to toxic paint chemicals throughout their years of work. 

So, in any occupational disease claim it is necessary to prove that the disease is more common for a given line of work than in the general population.  If the disease has not been linked to the employee’s job description, they will probably need to file a disability or workplace-injury claim instead.

What are Some of the Remedies for Occupational Disease Claims?

Remedies of occupational disease claims may include:

  • Compensation for losses caused by the injury (medical and hospital bills, lost wages)
  • Future losses, especially if the occupational disease has reduced the employee’s ability to perform work in the future
  • Damages obtained in a private, civil lawsuit against the employer

In most jurisdictions, the employer has the “burden of proof”.  This means that it’s up to the employer to prove that the disease wasn’t caused by the job or that the employee wasn’t actually injured.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With an Occupational Disease Claim?

Occupational disease claims are very serious and can often be somewhat complex.  Each occupational disease claim will be unique, since every line of work is different in some aspect.  You may need to contact a employment lawyer if you need help filing an occupational disease claim.  An experienced attorney in your area can help you file with a government agency or through the court system to ensure that you recover your losses.