Compensability of Illness under the Employee Compensation LawAtty Elvin
The Labor Code defines sickness as “any illness definitely accepted as an occupational disease listed by the Commission, or any illness caused by employment subject to proof that the risk of contracting the same is increased by working conditions.”
To be compensable, the Implementing Rules of Presidential Decree No. 626 states that the sickness and the resulting death “must be the result of an occupational disease listed under Annex ‘A’ of these Rules[.]” If the illness is a non-occupational disease, “proof must be shown that the risk of contracting the disease is increased by the working conditions.”
In the case of Social Security System vs. Simacas [G.R. No. 217866, June 20, 2022], the Supreme Court (SC) held that it is undisputed that the sickness which caused Irnido’s death is not a listed occupational disease. Thus, it is incumbent upon the claimant to demonstrate that the risk of contracting prostate cancer was increased by his working conditions. In establishing compensability, the claimant need only present substantial proof that the nature of the deceased’s work or working conditions increased the risk of them contracting prostate cancer.
The degree of proof necessary was discussed in Sarmiento v. Employees’ Compensation Commission. It was held in Sarmiento case that strict rules of evidence are not applicable in claims for compensation. There are stringent criteria to follow. The degree of proof required under P.D. 626, is merely substantial evidence, which means, “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion”.
The claimant must show, at least, by substantial evidence that the development of the disease is brought largely by the conditions present in the nature of the job. What the law requires is a reasonable work-connection and not a direct causal relation.
It is enough that the hypothesis on which the workmen’s claim is based is probable. Medical opinion to the contrary can be disregarded especially where there is some basis in the facts for inferring a work-connection. Probability not certainty is the touchstone.
Prostate cancer is characterized as a condition where “certain cells in the prostate become abnormal, multilply without control or order, and form a tumor.” While it is one of the leading causes of death among men, not much is known about the illness’ etiology or cause. The established risk factors for prostate cancer “are advanced age, ethnicity, genetic factors and family history[.]”
However, several studies have suggested that work-related exposures to certain substances, such as chromium, have the potential of affecting the risk of getting prostate cancer. A recent study “revealed a small but significant increase in prostate cancer risk for chromium exposure[.]”
In this case, it is undisputed that the deceased’s work included assisting the welder and machinist in cutting steel materials. It is said that “[ w ]orkers engaged in the manufacturing or handling stainless steel are exposed to chromium in varying degrees.” Thus, it is not unlikely that Imido’s work increased the risk of him contracting the disease. This probability suffices to warrant the grant of the claimed benefits.
It must be stressed that while Presidential Decree No. 626 has not incorporated “the presumption of compensability and the theory of aggravation prevalent under the ‘Workmen’s Compensation Act[,]” it continues to be “an employees’ compensation law or a social legislation” which should be liberally construed in favor of labor.
Read more on procedural due process discussion by Atty. Elvin:
Read more on procedural due process by Atty. Villanueva: