Press Release

California Bill Would Protect Nurses, End Gender Bias in Current State Law

For Immediate Release
February 14, 2011

If nurses get injured on the job, shouldn’t they be eligible for workers compensation? Presumably yes—but not according to the law in California.

Legislation introduced today by Assembly member Nancy Skinner, and sponsored by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United would be a major step forward in protecting nurses, and keeping experienced nurses at the bedside for patients. It would also redress what nurses say is a gender bias in current state protections.

California is one of many states that have laws that grant some public safety employees “presumptive eligibility” for workers’ compensation, meaning that if the employee sustains certain injuries or becomes infected with certain diseases like TB, or Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the injury or illness is presumed to be job related and makes him or her automatically eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Nurses, however, do not qualify for this presumptive eligibility, even though, by the nature of their work, they suffer some of the highest risks of injury and illness of any profession.  One study found that an average nurse lifts 1.8 tons of patient per day.

AB 375 will correct that omission and provide that back or neck injuries, MRSA, and other blood -borne infectious diseases are presumed to be job related if contracted by an RN.  

“If you are a police officer or firefighter afflicted by a disease or injury common to that profession, our workers’ compensation laws presume  it is job related,”  said  Skinner.

“This is not the case for nurses. Our system requires nurses and healthcare workers, mostly female -dominated professions, to prove injuries and diseases common to medical settings to be job related. My bill removes this gender bias and creates fairness so nurses have similar workers’ compensation protections as firefighters and police officers.”

“Hospitals are teeming with all kinds of antibiotic resistant bacteria and the chances of being exposed are greater than ever before,” said Kathryn Donahue, a 24-year critical care RN at St. Joseph hospital in Eureka a CNA board member who personally experienced the limitations of the law.

“My finger started to swell while I was at work. The next day it had turned black and was extremely painful. I was diagnosed with MRSA and was put on a double dose of antibiotics,” Donahue notes. “The hospital denied my claim that it was a work-related injury.  Without presumptive eligibility, you are left with little recourse when your employer refuses to take responsibility for your injury or illness.”  

The idea behind presumptive eligibility is that certain diseases and injuries are intuitively job related. For example, lung disease is generally considered an occupational disease for firefighters. Presumptive eligibility laws vary among states, and while they primarily apply to public safety employees, they do apply to other types of professions, such as coal miners for respiratory disease and lifeguards for skin cancer.

CNA has sponsored presumptive eligibility legislation in the past two legislative sessions also introduced by Assemblymember Skinner. The bill is sparked by an alarming rise in workplace injuries for RNs who all too often then must endure long battles to assure access to workers' compensation.  

"By the nature of their work, which involves ill patients, contagious diseases, and medical equipment, RNs are in constant danger of being exposed to a variety of illnesses, and becoming injured by lifting and moving patients or by the use of heavy medical equipment," said CNA Legislative Director Bonnie Castillo, RN.

According to 2007 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, healthcare workers lead the nation in the highest musculoskeletal (MSD) injury rates, and nursing ranks third in the number of work days missed due to illness and injury. Blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis and MRSA are constant work-related hazards for hospital employees, as well as patients.

MRSA is one of the most virulent types of antibiotic-resistant staph infections. Although infection control measures help to stop the spread of MRSA and other blood-borne diseases, they do not eliminate the job-related threat of contracting MRSA or other blood-borne diseases.