Can Workers’ Compensation Cover Stress Claims?

When most people consider workers’ compensation claims, they tend to focus on physical occupational injuries such as back or neck injuries. But psychological issues, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, can often accompany physical ailments — or arise from a traumatic workplace event on their own.

Many workers who find themselves experiencing mental health issues fear repercussions such as job or income loss. If you find yourself experiencing mental health issues affecting your work, it is critical to know your rights as an employee. 

For example, all U.S. employees dealing with mental health issues are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These rights include the following:

  • Workers can’t be fired because of mental health issues.
  • Workers can’t be discriminated against or harassed due to mental health issues.
  • Reasonable accommodations must be made for workers.

In some cases, mental health challenges may stem directly from a workplace incident. However, it’s important to understand that psychiatric claims do not include everyday job stress. While incidences of job insecurity, overwork, unsafe working conditions, bullying, and harassment, can all result in psychological injuries — an individual must prove the burden of his or her mental health condition in order to receive workers’ compensation for their claim.

Because emotional or psychological conditions can be difficult to identify, insurance companies often deny these claims and look for ways to uncover personal or sensitive information that could have contributed to a mental health decline instead, such as family trouble, substance abuse, or financial problems.

If you’ve filed a workers’ compensation claim and it was denied, Attorney Rachel Fitzgerald can help you file an appeal.

Do you have a work-related stress or psychiatric injury?

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development defines injuries covered by law as any mental or physical harm due to workplace accidents or diseases. This includes nervous disorders, hysteria, and traumatic neurosis — or emotional shock. Other examples include:

  • Accidental injury such as traumatic mental harm occurring suddenly and unexpectedly as a result of employment-related activity; 
  • Chronic mental harm caused by long-term exposure to employment-related substance, condition, or activity; and 
  • PTSD stemming from witnessing a severe or traumatic workplace event, such as an accident, assault, or death.

While workers can file psychiatric claims, however, they remain difficult to establish in the state. According to the DWD, the “applicant must prove that his or her job produced ‘extraordinary stress’ as compared to similarly situated persons,” especially if the claim is being filed without adjunction to a physical injury. These are often called “stress claims.”

If the mental injury is because of a physical work injury, then extraordinary stress does not need to be shown.

There are many professions that display  higher rates of work-related mental health disorders, including: 

  • Military Service Personnel
  • Police Officers
  • Firefighters
  • First Responders/Ambulance Personnel 
  • Healthcare Professionals
  • Journalists
  • Food Preparation and Service Personnel 

Mental health disorders can often result in productivity loss, work absenteeism, or exacerbate existing physical health issues. If you believe you have suffered a work-related mental health injury and are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, it's imperative to consult with a doctor for a mental health evaluation and document the incident with your employer.

Temporary vs. Permanent Disability

Almost all worker's compensation cases involving lost time initially are for Temporary Disability (TTD) which covers the period immediately following an injury. This is the period of treatment and healing before it can be determined whether or not there is any permanent disability.

The healing period typically lasts until the employee has recovered or is expected to as determined by competent medical evidence. If at that time the employee has limitations that are expected to remain unchanged in the future, he or she may be entitled to benefits for permanent disability (PPD). 

With mental health injuries, it can be particularly difficult to prove that a mental health injury is the result of work and not some other life or hereditary issue. Hiring a workers’ compensation lawyer can help explain what the relevant state laws pertaining to mental health illnesses related to a work situation are. They can also help file a claim and subsequent appeal if it is denied.

Consult with a Workers' Comp Attorney

If you still find yourself with questions around mental health coverage under workers’ compensation Laws, don’t hesitate to reach out to our experienced legal team to discuss your concerns. Fitzgerald Law Firm is open and ready to serve clients throughout the Northeast Wisconsin region.

Written by
Fitzgerald Law Firm