General Assembly 2019 and Workers’ Compensation Laws

The 2019 General Assembly took action on laws relating to workers’ compensation and occupational diseases. When people think of workers’ compensation, injuries that happen at work are the most common idea. Workers’ compensation, however, also applies to occupational diseases, or diseases that come as part of doing a job.

Cancer in Firefighters

Several types of cancer in firefighters are considered occupational diseases. Fires that firefighters extinguish are of course found in areas that were not designed to be on fire, and the materials that burn often release toxic chemicals. Exposure to these toxic chemicals, especially repeatedly over time, can cause certain types of cancer.

The Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia both passed an identical bill adding colon cancer, testicular cancer, and brain cancer to the list of cancers that are considered occupational diseases when firefighters get them.

There are two things that have to happen before the bill goes into effect. First, it must be passed by the 2020 General Assembly, which convenes (starts) in January 2020. Second, the 2020 General Assembly must look at information from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s review of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation program. The Join Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) is a part of the state government that looks at programs, does policy analysis, and has oversight of state agencies for the General Assembly. The JLARC will give its recommendations about the Virginia Workers’ Compensation program to the 2020 General Assembly before the next vote on these cancer bills.

PTSD in First Responders

Another bill is partway through the General Assembly, but is not yet near becoming law. This bill would establish PTSD as an occupational disease for first responders if certain conditions are met. The jobs involved would be “firefighters, law-enforcement officers, hazardous materials officers, animal protection police officers, or 9-1-1 emergency call takers, dispatchers, or similarly situated employees”. The person would have to receive a PTSD diagnosis from an appropriate, licensed medical professional; suffer death or a disability due to the PTSD; and have a medical professional sign a statement that the PTSD came from their work. I fall the criteria were met, the PTSD diagnosis would count as an occupational disease.

The bill was left in the committee in the House of Delegates, and in the Senate was sent from the committee to the JLARC for more study. This bill was not passed in the 2019 General Assembly session and will not have another chance until the 2020 General Assembly session.

Other Bills

Other bills that were introduced but did not go anywhere this session include one that slightly modifies the law about not firing someone because they file for workers’ comp; one that would require employers to notify employees of the employer’s intent to accept or deny the workers’ comp claim; one changing rules about a worker being injured outside of Virginia being eligible for workers’ comp in Virginia; and several other specific rule changes. The text of all of the proposed and passed legislation is available on the website of the Virginia Legislative Information System.

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