Although the Zika virus hasn't yet made its way to most of the contiguous U.S., this mosquito-borne and sexually-transmitted illness is spreading rapidly in Florida. In some areas with a high concentration of mosquitoes, avoiding transmission is much easier said than done, even with the benefit of mosquito netting and spray-on repellent. However, for some Florida police officers, becoming infected with Zika after being sent to an active transmission zone doesn't qualify as the type of work-related illness or injury that renders them eligible for workers' compensation benefits until they recover. Read on to learn more about the recourse police officers have if they're infected with a blood-borne pathogen or virus on the job.
Is Zika infection covered by workers' compensation benefits?
While Florida State Police officers are covered by a single workers' compensation insurance pool that can provide benefits to officers in Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami, or even Key West, police officers in cities (and sheriff's deputies in counties) are often covered by independent policies. Therefore, the coverage available for transmission of certain diseases on the job can vary widely by carrier.
The Florida Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has lobbied to extend workers' comp coverage for Zika infection to all first responders in Florida. A key requirement for coverage under existing policy guidelines is the ability to prove that the Zika virus was contracted on the job, rather than during an officer's personal time (or even while traveling outside the country).
Establishing this can be tricky; because the Zika virus doesn't cause all who are infected to become ill, and reactions to this virus can occur days, weeks, or months after transmission, proving you were infected on a certain date (and while at work) is often a heavy burden. The FOP proposal is designed to loosen this standard a bit so that those who have probable (rather than proven) work-related exposure would still be able to receive benefits.
What are your options if you believe you have contracted Zika on the job?
If you've tested positive for Zika after being exposed to someone's bodily fluids on the job (or after being stationed in a high transmission area), you'll want to contact a workers' comp attorney as soon as possible. An attorney who is familiar with this area of law will be able to guide you as to what evidence you need to provide to your employer in order to have your claim covered.