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The obesity epidemic continues to plague America with 37.5% of adults in the United States as obese. Unfortunately this can also cause problems with workers’ compensation. Doctors connect obesity to a variety of health problems, including diabetes, heart attacks, and high blood pressure. It also exacerbates the effects of injuries such as back and neck problems, lengthening healing time compared with non-obese employees. As obesity rates continue to climb, lawmakers show concern about how employees’ weight should affect workers’ compensation benefits.
Obesity complicates many workers’ compensation cases, leading to employers paying for additional surgeries and procedures that would not be necessary for an average weight employee. For example, imagine an employee sustains a back injury from a slip and fall at work. Doctors state the employee has to have back surgery, but because of her weight she must first undergo lap-band surgery. The courts may find that the employer must pay for both surgeries as part of treatment for the work-related injury.
Workers’ compensation benefits may also have to pay for extended absences if doctors recommend a weight-loss program or surgery for obesity-related complications. For instance, if an employee hurt his knee on the job, workers’ compensation benefits would have to cover the associated medical expenses. If a doctor stated the knee would never recover due to the stress of his body weight, and advised the employee to have gastric bypass surgery, the employer would end up paying for the employee’s prolonged absence from work.
If an obese employee suffered complications or an adverse reaction during a weight-loss surgery, the employer may also have to pay for additional surgeries or treatments. Doctors recognize that obesity also causes injuries. Employers are facing workers’ compensation claims that may not have existed if the employees weren’t obese, such as knee injuries. It can be difficult to prove that a workplace injury was the result of an employee’s weight instead of a dangerous workplace condition.
There is a greater risk for obese employees that workplace injuries will result in disabilities. In situations where a person of average weight could reasonably heal and return to work, obese employees may take months to heal or never fully recover. This leads to an increase in expensive disability claims and lifelong benefits. Clearly, drawing the line between what is and is not the employer’s responsibility is becoming increasingly difficult.
In the past, workers’ compensation cases involving obese employees show employers pay more when obese employees sustain injuries. This does not mean, however, that an employer can deny an obese employee workers’ compensation benefits. The law requires employees to extend benefits within the parameters of federal and state laws, with no biases against certain employees for physical appearances.
As an injured employee, you have the same rights to file a claim with the workers’ compensation court, see a doctor and pursue medical treatment, remain home from work until you reach maximum recovery, and receive disability compensation if your injury temporarily or permanently prevents you from working. If your doctor suggests you undergo weight-loss surgery or a program as part of your recovery from a work-related injury, workers’ compensation can cover those expenses.
Enlist the help of a workers’ compensation attorney in California to make the filing process smoother and easier. If you have questions regarding how obesity might affect your workers’ compensation case, an attorney can help. With dozens of workers’ compensation cases under our belt, our firm can help you understand the state and federal laws, exceptions to the rules, and your employer’s obligations by law. We know suffering a work-related injury is difficult enough without also dealing with obesity-related workers’ compensation complications. Contact us today to speak with us during a free case evaluation.