The Zika virus has been spread quickly, first through South America, then through Central America and Mexico -- with the United States, 36 countries in all. Of the 84 cases confirmed for the U.S., 24 have been in Florida. Not only are Floridians mobile, but we are a major gateway for travelers to the Americas and the Caribbean.
When you board a plane for vacation, you are risking infection. It's on you, though -- you have chosen to go to Costa Rica or Panama. If your job takes you there, though, your employer may be taking the risk. We've talked about what some companies are doing to protect their employees, but not every company will be as responsive. What, then, are your legal options?
Employment law experts suggest that worker protection laws under the Occupational Safety and Health Act fall short in this scenario. OSHA allows an employee to refuse a dangerous task, but the danger must be an immediate threat to life or limb. Pregnant women face an additional problem: The law protects them from harm, but it does not protect their unborn children.
Workers' compensation, of course, would only kick in if the employee were to contract the illness while on the job -- a little too late when congenital birth defects are involved. Plus, workers' comp is another area of law where an injury to an unborn child may or may not be covered. One expert suggests that this is more than an unsettled area of law; it is completely untested.
That could clear the way for a personal injury lawsuit, according to another employment lawyer. Again, this is an untested area of the law. For a negligence claim, however, the plaintiff mother could have to show that the employer had a duty to warn her of the danger and failed to do so. With such a high-profile virus, that could be an uphill battle.
For the time being, then, the risk falls almost entirely on the employee. Rock, meet hard place.
Source: Business Insurance, "Lawyers see limited legal options for workers sent in Zika's way," Thomson Reuters, Feb. 8, 2016
A good resource for travelers: the CDC's Zika Travel Information website.