Most people assume that workers' compensation only covers physical injuries, but what if your job causes mental or emotional illness? The issue is a complex one, and there is, unfortunately, no definitive "yes" or "no" answer.
Stress, Anxiety and the Workplace
For many people, stress and work go hand in hand. Anxiety and even PTSD can develop as a result of workplace stressors. These illnesses may be covered under workers' compensation. The primary issue is proving that the workplace was the cause of the illness.
Physical injuries are much easier to prove from an objective standpoint. A worker falls, is injured and requires emergency medical care. Now, that person is not able to walk or the injury will take months to heal. In this case, it's much easier to prove that the injury occurred while on the job and while the person was performing his or her duties. The worker may be entitled to Temporary Total Disability, which, according to the Ankin Law Office, would provide a weekly lost wage benefit while the worker was healing from his or her injuries.
Linking the Illness to the Workplace
Linking a mental illness to the job can be a challenge. A claimant must be able to establish a causal link between the illness and the workplace.
In a stress-related claim, for example, the individual would have to prove that the stress was the result of workplace factors and not personal factors.
Depending on local laws, the court may require the claimant to demonstrate – from an objective standpoint – how the illness was work-related. For example, the claimant may have to prove that the stress of the job was greater than the stress of a typical job from an objective standpoint.
Some states have already developed statutes that explain which elements are necessary to establish a stress-related or other mental health-related claim. In California, for example, an employee may receive workers' compensation benefits if he or she is diagnosed with a mental health condition that causes him or her to become disabled or in need of treatment. The employee must be able to prove that work-related events were the primary cause of the illness.
On the other hand, some states may not allow workers' compensation claims for mental illness-related injuries. Under Florida law, a mental injury must be accompanied by a physical injury that requires medical treatment in order to qualify for workers' compensation. Even then, the claimant must be able to prove that the mental injury was a result of the physical injury.
Other Compensation Options
Depending on the circumstances, workers may have other legal options outside of workers' compensation. A lawsuit may be filed for intentional infliction of emotional distress or negligence. Again, it may be difficult to prove negligence or that the employer intentionally inflicted the emotional distress. An experienced lawyer can help determine whether the claimant has a valid case.
Workers' compensation is a complex area of the law, particularly when mental health injuries are involved. Workers who feel they may have a claim should consider working with a lawyer who has experience with these types of claims.