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January 30, 2020

The flu: Is it a work-related disease

Cassandra Rudy

The CDC estimates that since October 2019, there have been up to 21 million flu illnesses in the U.S.  

If it hits your workplace, the flu virus can have a devastating impact on employee wellbeing and business productivity. Employers and employees alike should be trained on preventive measures and response strategies to protect themselves, families and colleagues. 

Is the flu a work-related illness if caught at work?

The short answer is, not necessarily under Minnesota law. State laws do address how workers’ comp wage loss benefits apply when an illness like the flu is contracted by workers. The laws distinguish the differences between “ordinary” and “occupational” diseases. Minnesota law says:

Ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of employment are not compensable . . . Except where exposure is peculiar to the occupation.” Which implies that “ordinary diseases” are not covered by workers’ compensation benefits.

Occupational diseases,” on the other hand, are covered by workers’ compensation. The law says it is an occupational disease when the person’s occupation increased the risk of and “proximately caused” the disease. That would apply, for instance, in the case of a firefighter who contracts smoke-caused cancer.

Actively promote prevention

An employer’s best prevention methods against flu outbreaks is to encourage employees to get the flu vaccination, promote personal hygiene like hand-washing, and to encourage employees to stay home from work when they are sick. 

For more flu resources, visit the Center of Disease Control’s website.