Compensable Illness with SSS for Local Employment

Compensable Illness with SSS for Local Employment

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.” [Title II, ch. 1, att. 173(1), cited in the case of Social Security System vs. Simacas, G.R. No. 217866, June 20, 2022]

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.”

Where the sickness is undisputed which caused the employee’s death is not a listed occupational disease, it is incumbent upon the employee as 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 vs. Employees’ Compensation Commission [228 Phil. 400 (1986)].

Strict rules of evidence are not applicable in claims for compensation. There are 119 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-

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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.

In the case of prostate cancer being claimed in the case of Simacas, it is not among the listed illness. Prostate cancer is characterized as a  condition where “certain cells in the prostate become abnormal, multlply without control or order, and form a tumor.”

According to the Supreme Court (SC), 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 “workers engaged in the manufacturing or handling stainless steel are exposed to chromium in varying degrees.” Thus, it is not unlikely that the work of the deceased employee in the Simaca case 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.

The SC reiterates its statement in Obra v. Social Security System as a final note, we find it necessary to reiterate that P.D. No. 626, as amended, is a  social legislation whose primordial purpose is to provide meaningful protection to the working class against the hazards of disability, illness and other contingencies resulting in the loss of income.

Thus, as the official agents charged by law to implement social justice guaranteed by the Constitution, the ECC and the SSS should adopt a  liberal attitude in favor of the employee in deciding claims for compensability especially where there is some basis in the facts for inferring a  work c0nnection with the illness or injury, as the case may be. It is  only this kind of interpretation that can give meaning and substance to the compassionate spirit of the law as embodied in Article 4 of the New Labor Code which states that all doubts in the implementation and interpretation of the provisions of the Labor Code including its implementing rules and regulations should be resolved in favor of labor.

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