The Zika Virus and Workers’ Compensation

The Zika virus, which was originally identified in 2015, has spread to approximately 33 countries.  Many of the countries are in the Americas.  Recently, the World Health Organization has announced an international health emergency because it is now thought the virus is linked in causing microcephaly.

Microcephaly is a condition in which babies are born with developmental issues and small heads.  The virus has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can cause paralysis.  With these possible symptoms and concerns, employers must be careful when sending employees into Zika-infected areas.

When tasked with a job duty requiring possible exposure to a serious illness, workers may be hesitant or even unwilling to complete the task.  Many positions are at-will, meaning that employers may terminate employees at any time.  Workers may fear that refusing to complete a task which may expose them to an illness will result in termination.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employees have the right to refuse participation in a dangerous task.  Going to a dangerously infected area most likely would be considered a dangerous task, especially for pregnant women.  Employers have the right to terminate employees unless the task poses an immediate risk of death or serious injury.  Whether Zika-infected areas meet the immediate risk of death or serious injury requirement would be a question of fact for a court or jury to decide.

If you have concerns regarding employment law issues, contact an experienced New York employment law attorney who can ensure that your rights are protected.  Call Steven Mitchell Sack at (917) 371-8000 or email him at

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