Occupational diseases and workers’ compensation benefits in Kansas

Most people in Overland Park know they have a right to workers' compensation benefits if they suffer injuries in the course of their employment. However, many people are less familiar with their rights in the event of occupational diseases, which range from illnesses to physical trauma arising from repetitive strain. Fortunately, these conditions also qualify for workers' compensation benefits if they meet certain criteria.

Qualifying diseases

Kansas law states that a disease is considered an occupational illness if it arises in the course of an employee's regular working duties and as a direct result of those duties. An employee can typically only receive benefits if his or her job creates a unique risk of the particular disease. Diseases that most employees or the general public are also exposed to cannot be considered occupational diseases.

Workers may also seek benefits if their jobs exacerbate any of their pre-existing health conditions. For instance, someone who developed carpal tunnel syndrome before his or her job might seek workers' compensation benefits if the condition becomes significantly worse due to the nature of the job. However, the person would receive a reduced benefit compared to someone who developed carpal tunnel entirely due to his or her job duties.

Typically, occupational diseases must have permanent or serious effects to be compensated as occupational diseases. A 2004 case heard before the Kansas Division of Workers' Compensation Appeals Board illustrates this standard. A woman had to leave her job due to allergies that she developed in the course of her employment. The woman contended she developed a respiratory illness, according to court documents, while her employer held that she suffered a temporary injury.

The Board acknowledged that the woman's condition had elements of both an occupational disease and a series of accidental injuries. However, since the woman's symptoms went into remission when she stopped working with her employer, she received compensation for a temporary injury.

Reporting requirements

Besides suffering from occupational diseases that meet the above criteria, injured workers must meet reporting guidelines. Kansas observes the following rules:

  • General occupational diseases are only compensable if they develop within one year of the employee's last known exposure to the workplace hazard.
  • Silicosis is only compensable if it manifests within three years of the worker's last known exposure to silica.
  • An illness resulting from ionizing radiation is compensable regardless of when it becomes apparent.

While some occupational diseases may be clearly linked to a certain type of work or workplace, the origins of others may be harder to establish. Additionally, establishing the origins and severity of conditions that are slow to manifest can be difficult. Given these challenges, anyone who has developed an occupational disease should consider meeting with a workers' compensation attorney for guidance during the claim process.