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.

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