Psychiatric Injuries – What Counts Under Workers’ Compensation and What Doesn’t

Work-related injuries can come in all shapes and sizes.  Sometimes it is obvious, such as a broken leg from falling off of a ladder.  Sometimes an injury is not visible to the naked eye, such as Carpel Tunnel Syndrome developed from repetitive motions such as typing.  What many employers do not realize is that a work-related injury does not have to be a physical injury in order to qualify under California’s workers’ compensation statutes.  Psychiatric injuries may also fall under the labor code’s definition of a compensable work-related injury.

In order for a cumulative psychiatric injury to qualify as a compensable work-related injury, the injury must be very particular prerequisites.  Under California Labor Code 3208.3, the psychiatric injury must meet the following requirements:

1. The employee must have worked for the employer for at least six months;

2. The psychiatric condition must be recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and listed in the DSM-V

3. The employee must prove that the work environment or event is the predominant cause of a psychiatric condition.

The statute also sets out those situations that would definitely not qualify for compensation under workers’ compensation.  This includes any condition that is caused by “good faith” and non-discriminatory personnel actions.  For example, if an employee suffers psychiatric injury because an employer is conducting a routine and reasonable performance evaluation, this would not qualify under the statute.  What would qualify, however, would be an injury sustained because of actions such as sexual harassment in the work place or witnessing physical violence in the workplace.  Moreover, psychiatric injury that is caused by the process of litigation or the workers’ compensation process is not compensable.  This means that just because a worker develops a psychiatric condition because of the stresses of the legal process surrounding a workers’ compensation claim, this does not mean that this psychiatric condition is now a part of the employee’s workers’ compensation claim.  The statute also recognizes that stress is not a diagnosable condition according to the American Psychiatric Association.  Note, however, that although stress standing alone is not an injury, it may be part of a compensable injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.  Employers should be cautious with psychiatric injuries to make sure that all of the requirements under the labor code are met.

If you have an employee making a workers’ compensation claim due to psychiatric injury, you need an experienced attorney to help you with the process.  Call us today at (714) 516-8188 if you wish to discuss psychiatric injuries and your business’ responsibilities.

Short-Term Employees and Psychiatric Injury

Workers’ compensation laws cover a wide variety of work-related injuries to employees in the state of California.  Among the types of injuries that are covered by the California Labor Code are psychiatric injuries.  California Labor Code Section 3208.3 states that a psychiatric injury sustained at work may be compensable under workers’ compensation claims.  However, subsection (d) of the statute provides that in order to eligible for compensation of a psychiatric work-related injury, the employee must have been employed by the business for at least six months.  An exception to that rule is if the injury was the result of “a sudden and extraordinary employment condition.”  The purpose of the six month requirement is to prevent questionable claims for psychiatric injury by brand new employees when the psychiatric injury is a result of stressors common to that profession.

In Travelers Casualty & Surety Company, et al. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and Mark Dreher, the court of appeals addressed a case involving both physical and psychiatric injuries.  In that case, Mr. Dreher had been working for his employer for 74 days when he slipped and fell, sustaining numerous physical injuries.  He also stated he had psychiatric injuries, in the form of depression and panic attacks.  The WCJ denied his claim for psychiatric injury.  It held that § 3208.3(d) prevented him from recovering for his psychiatric injuries because the injury was not the result of an “extraordinary employment condition.”  The Court of Appeals recited that other cases have found that extraordinary employment conditions may include such incidents as a gas explosion or workplace violence.  These are not routine stressors or employment events, and therefore do not qualify as extraordinary conditions for the purposes of the statute.  Mr. Dreher argued that his injury was extraordinary due to the catastrophic and serious nature of his injuries.  Mr. Dreher suffered a fractured pelvis, in addition to neck, shoulder, leg, and knee injuries.  He had a sleep disorder, gait derangement, and headaches.  He required many surgeries, including to repair pelvic fractures and a torn meniscus.  Despite this extensive treatment list, his pain and disabilities were not totally cured.  Even though the Court recognized that Mr. Dreher had been severely injured, it held that this did not support a finding of extraordinary employment conditions.  The Court stated that the severity of the injury was not a component of whether or not the employment conditions were extraordinary.  His psychiatric claims were accordingly denied.

Short-term employee claims can create special issues in workers’ compensation.  I have experience in guiding my clients through this type of case.  Contact me today at (714) 252-7078 to talk about your business and the issues facing you.

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