Are you at risk of occupational disease?

The term occupational disease means something a little different to everyone. Could it be an illness that we suffer from for a month or two? Or should it be accompanied by irreversible consequences? And is it possible to understand as an occupational disease, for example, the back pain or headache that we always suffer from in the evening after work? We have looked at some of the uncertainties we encounter on the subject of occupational diseases.

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Chapters of the article

What do we define as an occupational disease and what diseases are included here?

The definition states that it is a disease resulting from adverse effects of chemical, physical, biological or other harmful influences when arising under conditions listed in the list of occupational diseases. In doing so, it is a disease where the morbid changes in health resulting from it are directly related to the performance of the occupation. In other words, the performance of the occupation in question can be identified as the unequivocal cause of the disease.
The above-mentioned list, laid down by government regulation, therefore lists both the diseases recognised as occupational diseases and the characteristics of how the disease arises.

To illustrate, here is one of the dozens of items covered by the regulation: lung cancer from radioactive substances. The disease arises from work in which inhalation exposure to radioactive substances is demonstrated to be the cause of the disease according to current medical knowledge.

It is a common myth that to meet the definition it must be a chronic, lifelong illness, but occupational disease can also be temporary, with improvement occurring either when the occupation is changed or when appropriate treatment is chosen. In either case, the sick employee should consider quitting the hazardous work that caused the illness.

Occupational diseases do not necessarily have to be of a nature that requires treatment at home and sick pay; there are also occupational diseases with which people continue to work.

The website listed the following as the most common examples of occupational diseases in the decade 2010-2020:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome,
  • contact allergic eczema,
  • scabies (sarcoptosis),
  • bronchitis (Asthma bronchiale),
  • pneumoconiosis simplex.

Diagnoses of congestion of various parts of the body (e.g. joints of the hand), arthrosis, various skin and lung diseases follow.

Do you have doubts about whether your illness can be characterised as an occupational disease?

If you are unsure whether your illness meets the legal definition of an occupational disease, please contact us with your query. Our attorneys will prepare a written opinion on your inquiry within 48 hours.

In the last two years there has been a recurring question as to whether covid can be taken as an occupational disease. We are inclined to the view that, in certain circumstances and for a particular type of occupation, it could be so regarded if the illness was demonstrably diagnosed in the worker concerned and it was clear that there had been close contact within the workplace with another person who had also been diagnosed. However, this typically involved doctors, nurses or laboratory staff, not ordinary office workers.

From January next year, it will be possible to report as an occupational disease perhaps the most common problem of our time: back pain, or chronic lumbar spine pain. Such a diagnosis would typically be made for people in physically demanding jobs involving heavy lifting (nurses, warehouse workers), where the likelihood of such problems is reported to be 40-60% higher than in the general population. However, clerks who use a small laptop instead of a screen at eye level, resulting in hunching, should focus on workplace ergonomics rather than potential compensation.

I believe I have an occupational disease..

Presumption is not enough to make any claim. Only a doctor can declare the existence of an occupational disease, and even then only a specialist occupational health assessment centre. If the workplace confirms an occupational disease, you can turn to your employer.

If your medical condition does not currently fall within the list of occupational diseases, but you are sure that it has occurred in this context, it is worth following the amendments to the relevant government regulation. A doctor may also recognise as an occupational disease a disease that arose before the inclusion in the list of occupational diseases, from the time of its inclusion in the list and for a maximum of 3 years before its inclusion in the list.

It is not necessary to be working at the time for the employer where the conditions giving rise to the disease occurred in order to be recognised. You can also apply to the employer concerned retrospectively. If you have had more than one employer for whom the conditions arose, contact the last employer for whom you worked under the conditions.

Tip: Be aware that although the claim for compensation is not time-barred as such, individual rights to compensation are time-barred within the general three-year limitation period. This is generally calculated after 1 year, when it is undisputed that there has been a permanent impairment and that the employee’s health has not improved.

Employer’s obligations regarding occupational disease

Employers have a legal obligation in relation to occupational health and safety to:

  • to keep a register of employees who have been recognised as suffering from an occupational disease arising at their workplaces, and
  • to apply measures at the workplace which eliminate or at least minimise the risk factors which give rise to the risk of occupational disease or illness.

What am I entitled to if I have an occupational disease?

The employer is obliged to provide compensation for:

  • material damage – this may be, for example, the fee the injured person had to pay for a medical report,
  • expenses reasonably incurred in connection with treatment – medicines, medical aids not covered by the insurance company,
  • loss of earnings – these are payments of a kind of “annuity” in the amount of the difference between the average earnings before the damage occurred and the earnings achieved after the occupational disease was diagnosed. The compensation is due to the employee until the end of the calendar month in which he or she reaches the age of 65 or until the date of the award of the retirement pension,
  • pain and impairment of social work.

If the employee has died of an occupational disease, the survivors shall be entitled to medical expenses and funeral costs, the costs of maintenance of the survivors, non-pecuniary damage to the survivors and compensation for material damage to the heirs.

Hint: We have discussed each claim in detail in our article on work-related injuries.

Employers are required to be insured, so compensation is then usually paid by the insurance company.

As with a work-related injury, pain and suffering is calculated according to a table. However, it is calculated only after a certain period of time after the illness has been detected, so that there is a presumption that the sick employee’s health has stabilised. The value of one point is CZK 250. For example, for the most common occupational disease, carpal tunnel damage, a pain allowance of approximately 150 points per arm is paid. However, it all depends on the specific opinion of the doctor.

Termination on grounds of occupational disease

If an employee has lost the medical capacity to perform his or her current job as a result of an occupational disease and it is not possible to transfer the employee to another job, the employer is entitled to terminate the employee’s employment.

In such a case, however, the employer is obliged to provide the employee with a severance payment equal to 12 times the average salary. The same obligation applies to the employer if the employment relationship is terminated by agreement for the same reasons.

What if I only feel threatened by occupational disease?

If your health deteriorates as a result of the conditions at the workplace, but the deterioration is not of such a degree that it can be recognised as an occupational disease, you can request a transfer to another job in view of your health condition. At the same time, you should claim a supplementary payment of the average wage you were earning before the transfer.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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