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Receiving Compensation for Work-Related Mental Disorders

Depressed young man sits on outdoor staircase, his face covered by his handsWhen you think of workers’ compensation benefits, you generally think of compensation awarded for physical injuries caused by a workplace accident. In many cases, this is correct. Physical injuries such as lacerations, broken bones, and burns lead the pack in workers’ compensation claims. However, what you may not know is that mental disorders caused by unsafe work environments and improper employee health management are on the rise. These types of illnesses, if directly linked to employer negligence or workplace accidents, can be used as an eligible reason to receive workers’ compensation (WC)—at least to an extent.

Common Types of Workplace Mental Health Problems Eligible for WC

No matter what your occupation, work can be stressful at times and cause you to want to pull your hair out. This reaction is sadly common and—sorry to say—isn’t subject to workers’ compensation. Periodic stress and mental exhaustion are, unfortunately, normal reactions in safe working environments and therefore often cannot be connected to workplace negligence. As a result, these types of strain aren’t covered by workers’ compensation. However, if the stress becomes chronic and causes you to be unable to fulfill your work duties or causes physical symptoms that directly affect your work, you may have a claim.

State workers’ compensation laws may cover the following severe mental illnesses if they arise directly from workplace accidents, conditions, or duties:

  • Stress and anxiety. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), defines occupational stress and anxiety as “any harmful emotional or physical response that occurs when a job’s requirements do not match with the resources, needs or capabilities of the employee.” In simpler language, work-related stress happens when a job’s duties or environment overwhelms an employee to the extent of a mental break. In order to be eligible for workers’ compensation, you must not only be able to prove a link between work and your anxiety, but also satisfy one or more of the following qualifications: an inability to do your job for an extended period of time, have written proof from a doctor describing the limitations of your severe anxiety, or be receiving ongoing treatment for the condition
  • Depression. Depression is different from anxiety and stress as it can cause physical symptoms that make it impossible to focus…or even to get out of bed in the morning. Since depression can be a chronic illness, it is extremely difficult to prove the cause. As a result, even though you’re suffering and are unable to do your job, claiming your work environment is the source of your illness may not be enough to warrant workers’ compensation. However, if you’re able to secure medical records showing the onset of the illness and sources that link your work stress with your depression, you may have a valid case.
  • PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur as a result of witnessing, experiencing, or even hearing about a trauma. PTSD can cause physical symptoms such as profuse sweating, shaking, and hallucinations, as well as the physical inability to focus and perform. However, just as with stress and depression, in order to qualify for benefits, you must have experienced or witnessed the traumatic event that caused the PTSD while at work. Furthermore, you must also receive a formal diagnosis of PTSD from a psychiatrist or psychologist. Some examples of workplace situations that may cause PTSD include witnessing a co-worker’s injury or death, experiencing a school shooting, or suffering a physical injury yourself.

Filing for Workers’ Compensation for a Mental Disorder

The most difficult part of filing for workers’ comp when it comes to mental disorders is proving the link between your job and the condition. Since workers’ compensation is available only for injuries and illnesses that arise from the course of employment, that link is crucial for showing that you deserve benefits. For example, for a stress-related claim, you would have to demonstrate that you suffered anxiety as a direct result of workplace factors rather than personal stress.

Unfortunately, since stress can appear both in your professional and your personal life, determining the exact point of how and when your stress elevated beyond that of normal levels is nearly impossible. In many cases, if you can prove a link, workers’ compensation will provide medical benefits for treatment and temporary time off work, but this is a big “if.” You may also have a better chance for a settlement if your work-related stress could potentially lead to major physical damages like a stroke or heart attack.

Getting Help to Fight Insurance Company Trickery

Insurance companies will often challenge workplace mental health claims. Due to the difficulty of proving the legitimacy and origins of a mental disorder, insurance companies often successfully get claims delayed, reduced, or denied. The argument that your mental affliction is unproven, that it predates employment, or that it was not acquired exclusively on the job can have a catastrophic effect on your claim.

If you have a legitimate claim, however, an experienced lawyer will be a great help in connecting your mental disorder to a physical illness or a work-related accident. Your lawyer will probably need to hire expert witnesses to demonstrate the seriousness and origin of your mental impairment. The use of witnesses and factual cause-and-effect proof will show how your employer is responsible for your illness.

Did you find this article interesting? If so, help your friends and family learn more about their workers’ compensation rights by sharing this article. You can also feel free to share our contact information if you know someone who is in need of guidance with their claim. We’ve spent the last three decades gathering experience and knowledge to help balance the burden between employer and employee. Let us use our resources to get you the results you and your loved ones need.


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