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Can you get workers' compensation for chemical sensitivities?

If you suffer from multiple chemical sensitivities due to over-exposure to chemicals on the job, can you get workers' compensation benefits -- or any type of disability -- for it?

Maybe, but it won't be easy.

Approximately 55 million people in the United States suffer every day from health problems related to exposure to chemical products. They experience reactions from exposure to everything at work from their co-worker's perfume to the cleaning crew's products. However, many of the people who suffer from the disorder have worked (or still work) in jobs where exposure to strong chemicals is just part of a day's work.

Even though multiple chemical sensitivity disorder (MCS), was first mentioned in medical journals in 1952, it still isn't officially recognized as a disease by major medical organizations.

That means that not only is there no clearly-defined treatment for the disorder, there's no clear path to benefits for those people who find MCS disabling.

MCS may, however, become one of the next big battlegrounds for those afflicted with workplace illnesses as they file for workers' comp and other disability programs. Studies indicate that reports of MCS have increased among workers by 300 percent. In 2017 alone, 22 million people had to take off work after exposure to a chemical scent at work.

Unfortunately, experts say that insurance companies often respond to complaints of MCS by sending workers to consultative doctors who will dismiss their complaints and insist that there's no basis for the diagnosis -- despite what the workers' doctors may say.

Another problem is that workers' comp requires workers to establish a direct relationship between their condition and workplace exposure to chemicals -- and there are plenty of chemicals outside of work that could be connected to MCS as well.

In addition, insurers may try to say that the MCS is largely psychological -- and limit benefits through workers' comp under provisions that apply only to mental conditions without physical injury.

Despite these hurdles, experts say that it is sometimes possible to get workers' comp based on MCS. In particular, if you suffer from asthma, skin reactions or other symptoms that manifest physically, you probably have a case. Either way, it may be wisest to get some legal advice before you file. That way, you can learn the right way to present your case before you file for workers' comp.

Source: Newsweek, "What Is MCS? Multiple Chemical Sensitivity 'Affects Millions of Americans,' But It Isn't a Real Illness," Kashmira Gander, March 16, 2018

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