The Zika Virus – What It Could Mean for Pregnant Workers

Over the past few months, health officials around the globe have been sounding the alarm about the Zika virus. Originally discovered in 1947 in the Zika forest of Uganda, the virus is contracted through mosquito bites and thrives in tropical areas. While the Zika virus itself is not deadly, it can lead to severe complications for pregnant mothers and their unborn children in the form of microcephaly – a congenital condition that is characterized by underdeveloped heads and brains. In Brazil – the epicenter of the current Zika virus outbreak – over 850 children have been born with microcephaly this year. This, of course, has lead American businesses to cut back on their travel to the area and offer stern warnings for any employees planning to fly there in the near future.

But this leads to a unique legal situation – if a pregnant mother travels to Brazil for work, contracts the Zika virus and subsequently gives birth to a baby with microcephaly, can she recover damages through workers’ compensation or some other means?

This is an incredibly interesting question. First, most experts agree that employees would not be protected by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) from termination. While employees may be able to collect workers’ compensation if they contract the Zika virus, they would not be able to refuse to travel to such an area – until the threat level is raised. However, some believe that this coverage goes a step further. Depending on the amount of warning, protection and options given by an employer, expectant mothers may have legal options should they become infected while traveling abroad for work. Of course, the challenges posed by such a case would be significant and would require strong legal counsel.

If your baby has suffered a debilitating birth defect due to another individual’s negligence, contact Blume Forte Fried Zerres and Molinari to review your legal options. You can reach us at (973) 635-5400.

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