When are occupational diseases compensable in Wisconsin?

Occupational diseases that arise from working conditions, repetitive motions or substance exposure may be compensable if they meet certain requirements.

Every day, workers in Wisconsin report 300 work-related afflictions, according to the state Department of Health Services. Often, these conditions are physical injuries that arise from a specific incident. However, workers in Wauwatosa also may suffer from conditions that develop more subtly and gradually, such as chronic illnesses or traumatic stress injuries. These occupational diseases may qualify for compensation just like physical injuries, but many workers may not pursue that compensation.

According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration report released earlier this year, as few as 3 percent of workers who suffer from these conditions receive compensation. In light of this finding, it's essential for workers who develop occupational illnesses and diseases to understand the relevant laws and their rights under them.

Occupational diseases defined

In Wisconsin, state law defines occupational diseases as persistent mental or physical conditions that develop due to exposure to certain stresses in the workplace. These stresses can generally be broken into three categories:

  • Harmful substances. Lead poisoning, tuberculosis and pneumonia are common examples of occupational diseases that may develop when workers are habitually exposed to dangerous or toxic substances.
  • Strenuous physical activity. Low back injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome are examples of repetitive stress injuries that may develop when workers repeatedly engage in physically difficult motions.
  • Hazardous environmental conditions. Hearing loss is an example of an occupational disease that can arise from an employee's general working environment.

In theory, employees afflicted with any of these occupational diseases may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. However, workers must prove that their conditions meet relevant criteria.

Determining compensability

A worker can only receive compensation for an occupational disease that arises directly in the course of his or her employment. An occupational injury or illness might still be compensable if other factors, such as prior jobs or personal activities, contributed to it. However, the worker must show that the nature of his or her job was primarily responsible for the development of the condition.

Unfortunately, workers typically cannot receive compensation for illnesses or repetitive stress injuries that the general population is likely to develop. Instead, an occupational disease must occur as the result of unique job-related factors or risks.

Reporting requirements

Wisconsin workers should generally report injuries to their employers within 30 days of the date of injury. Workers may lose the right to seek compensation if they have not submitted reports within two years of the same date. The only exception to this rule is made in cases when an employer already knew about the injury or should have been aware of it.

The reporting requirements are slightly different for workers who have occupational diseases, since these diseases manifest so gradually. Workers are supposed to give notice within 30 days of realizing that a condition is work-related. However, workers may make claims as long as they report the occupational disease within two years of realizing that the disease developed in the course of their jobs.

Claiming occupational conditions

Documenting the origins of an occupational disease can be challenging, especially if other factors might have contributed to it. Therefore, soon after officially reporting an occupational disease, victims may benefit from seeking the advice of a workers' compensation attorney. An attorney may be able to help a worker put together a claim that is more likely to result in the awarding of compensation.