Boss, this work uniform makes me sick. Literally.
Workers have always complained about corporate uniforms. But thousands of American Airlines employees have experienced adverse reactions and even chronic health problems related to new uniforms rolled out last September.
Hundreds of flight attendants and other personnel have reacted to something in the uniforms. They have reported severe and persistent rashes and hives, itchy eyes, wheezing, nagging coughs, migraines, even thyroid problems. Even co-workers wearing the new uniforms can trigger symptoms.
More than 800 employees have filed injury-on-duty claims with American, but such claims are not always honored. Eventually they may need a lawyer to prove their health issues are job-related so they can receive workers' compensation benefits.
Can work clothes be considered a toxic exposure?
Under Colorado workers' compensation, the airline employees could seek benefits under a category of claims called occupational disease. This refers to health problems from toxic exposures in the workplace or overuse injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Such claims can be tricky. For the American Airlines employees, symptoms vary widely from one person to the next, and thousands of employees have had no symptoms. Medical causation is a crucial element of an occupational illness claim, but so far no one has pinpointed a specific fabric or chemical that would trigger allergic reactions. On the other hand, the sheer number of employees who have reported problems makes it hard for the company to tell an employee that their health problems are "all in your head" or "not work-related."
What is the employer's responsibility?
Some 3,000 flight attendants have registered complaints and 800 workers have sought medical treatment and workers' comp. Rather than recall the uniforms, the airline has allowed those with sensitivity to wear their old uniforms or an alternative uniform. However, many workers report adverse reactions merely from being on the same plane with the new uniforms or even sitting in a jump seat where a co-worker sat on the previous flight.
Employers have an obligation to provide medical care and wage benefits if you cannot work because of a work-related exposure. Employers also have an obligation to provide a safe working environment. This includes an obligation to remedy a toxic exposure, especially if multiple co-workers become sick or injured.
If you are an American Airlines employee based in Colorado -- or if you are ailing because of something toxic in your workplace -- contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney to explore your legal remedies.
Source: At American Airlines, rashes, wheezing and suspicion still surround new uniforms (Star-Telegram)