Watch an episode of “Mad Men,” turn on the nightly news, or beef up your knowledge of the Industrial Revolution, and it’s easy to conclude that workplace trauma isn’t new in this country. Sex harassment, shootings and other forms of violence, and accidents caused by dangerous working conditions may be a HR manager’s worst nightmare — but they also aren’t new or novel.
What is new, having only really emerged in recent years, is the prospect that an employee who develops a mental condition like “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD) from work-related duties or circumstances may receive workers’ compensation benefits under changing state laws. The developing trend could affect you and your place of work.
Workers’ compensation for PTSD is growing
There seems to be growing momentum nationwide to consider legislation or take legislative measures to grant or expand coverage for PTSD and other “mental-only” injuries incurred on the job. In 2018, for example, at least 16 states considered new legislation addressing workers’ compensation coverage for PTSD and other “mental-only” injuries, according to a “Regulatory and Legislative Trends Report” from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). (In the year prior, a handful of states had passed or considered PTSD-specific legislation for first responders.)
The NCCI report went on to note that Florida (where I work) was one of two states (the other being Washington) to pass a law expanding benefits for first responders with PTSD. Senate bill 376, which took effect here in Florida in the fall of 2018, expands workers’ compensation benefits for firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, law enforcement officers and other first responders.
Criteria for work-related PTSD
If first responders stand to benefit most from this nationwide trend, it may also be a misconception to assume that workers’ comp benefits for PTSD only pertain to people whose jobs regularly involve responding to traumatic events. One reason is that while PTSD that is eligible for workers’ comp benefits must typically involve an experience of trauma while performing one’s job, some state laws and rulings have opened the door to compensation for PTSD caused by chronic job stress (not necessarily triggered by a traumatic event).
In California, according to a briefing by the state’s Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation that cites Labor Code Section 3208.3, first responders or any other employee in California who suffers a job-related psychiatric disability can file a claim for workers’ compensation to receive benefits— including treatment coverage for “stress-related conditions” associated with one’s employment.
In Connecticut, there is now legal precedent for employees to receive workers’ comp for PTSD that is a purported consequence of being over-worked. In the case of William D. Hart v. Federal Express Corp, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that a FedEx Corp. driver who had been diagnosed with PTSD as the result of a new manager’s high-pressure demands, was entitled to workers’ comp benefits.
As in Connecticut, there have been other cases around the country that have involved courts siding with employees in workers’ comp disputes.
Just two examples: