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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2019

    Default Pre-Existing Asthma Exacerbated by Formaldehyde Smell

    My question involves workers compensation law for the state of: West Virginia.

    I have asthma. My employer says I cannot file a workerís compensation claim because my asthma was a preexisting condition. They also say that I cannot prove what triggered my asthma even though there is an overwhelming smell in the building.

    Iíve been employed by the for the past nine years.

    In August 2018 I began to experience a reoccurrence of severe asthma and began missing work more frequently than I would like. All my absences were covered with accrued sick leave and I often worked from home on those days.

    This past August (2019) I experienced a bronchial spasm, basically a mild-moderate persistent bout of asthma, which caused me to miss work more frequently to the point that my sick leave was accrual was down to four weeks.

    I began to improve and by the middle part of September I was back to normal.

    Shortly after I returned to work HR decided to transfer me to another department.

    This transfer included moving my office from the main building to a building that obviously has some type of volatile organic compound off-gassing which I believe is formaldehyde ( a known asthma trigger). The smell is undeniable.

    This building has always caused me issues. The smell has always triggered breathing difficulties for me. I told HR I could not work there because of my asthma. My current supervisor went to bat on my behalf without effect.

    I practically begged not to be moved to the building. I even went so far as to meet with the university president asking him to postpone the move until I was fully recovered.

    Sadly, nobody in our senior leadership listened to me until it was too late. I was in the new office for 90 minutes before I started having breathing issues - that was 9/24/19. The odor in the building started a new bronchial spasm cycle before I was fully recovered from the last one - except this time it was much worse.

    By 9/26/19 I was having breathing issues 24/7. That morning, at work, I had what can only be described as a mini-breakdown. I was despondent over the thought of being sick again, of having to worry about breathing and I couldnít understand why they would put me in the position to be exposed to any trigger knowing I was already suffering from uncontrolled asthma.

    They knew, because I had explained to them in emails and in my meeting with the president, that I was in the 5% of those with asthma who experience a paradoxical reaction to the drugs commonly used to treat asthma. What that means in real life terms is that I canít use a rescue inhaler - for me any asthma attack has a vastly greater potential to be fatal.

    I went on medical leave on 9/26/19. My doctor cleared me to return to work on 11/4/19.

    My issue is that Iíve likely suffered permanent lung damage from the last bout of asthma and I blame my employer for causing it. The extent of the damage canít be accurately gauged until the asthma is under control, but damage has occurred.

    Does this fall under workerís compensation? HR told me it wasnít. They said I couldnít prove what caused my attack.

    Do I have to prove exactly what caused the attack? Whatever is causing the very obvious odor caused my episode regardless of what it is. Isnít it enough that I explained in great detail that I was hypersensitive to odors and wanted to avoid a known trigger?

    Based on my peak flow readings Iíve lost at least 30% of my lung capacity. I used my entire leave balance, both sick days & vacation. Now Iím forced to take unpaid days off next week for lung testing.

    I qualify as disabled under the ADA if that helps.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2013

    Default Re: Pre-Existing Asthma Exacerbated by Formaldehyde Smell

    It was illegal for your employer to tell you not to make a claim. HR and the bosses are protecting their insurance rates.

    You had a right to make the claim and let the insurance company decide.

    There is still time to file.

    If your employer won't cooperate, contact the state's workers comp office for help:

    There may even be enough at stake to be worth getting a workers comp attorney.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2006

    Default Re: Pre-Existing Asthma Exacerbated by Formaldehyde Smell

    Did you, at any time, ask for an accommodation under the ADA? If not, you might want to do so now.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2011

    Default Re: Pre-Existing Asthma Exacerbated by Formaldehyde Smell

    you will need medical evidence linking your current condition to your work environment in order to qualify for comp benefits.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2008

    Default Re: Pre-Existing Asthma Exacerbated by Formaldehyde Smell

    did you provide medical documentation on your needs and did you ask for specific accommodations? Generally an employer under ADA is required to interactively work with you, but doesn't have to give you the 1 exact accommodation that you want if there are others that will work.

    I will say having employees with asthma and allergy issues that it is very hard to prove what is causing the issues (air, building, other fragrances, etc)

    Under WC, the insurance can ask for prior medical records and can take into account pre-existing conditions. And you will, like others have said, need to be able to prove that your move to this specific building caused the issues (which can be hard to do) Part of this issue is that you admit to large health issues prior (Aug 18-19) to moving to this specific location/building in September.

    Definitely make the WC claim and keep talking to HR and your doctors about reasonable accommodations.

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