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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