When do mental injuries qualify for workers’ compensation in California?

In California, the victims of psychiatric injuries may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits if they meet certain medical and job-related criteria.

Mildly stressful or upsetting experiences are, unfortunately, a regular part of the job for many employees in California. In extreme cases, however, some workers may experience such high levels of stress that they suffer serious psychological injuries, such as posttraumatic stress disorder. These injuries may qualify for workers' compensation benefits, but workers must meet several unique criteria to make a successful claim.

Qualifying injuries

Under state statutes, a person must have developed a disabling condition or a need for treatment as a result of a diagnosed mental disorder. The person's employment does not need to be the exclusive cause of this psychological injury. However, state law establishes a high standard of proof in these cases, and victims show that their employment was more than 51 percent responsible for the psychiatric injury.

Additional criteria

State law also limits the circumstances in which employees may seek compensation for work-related psychological injuries. Employees may be barred from making workers' compensation claims in the following cases:

· The injury stemmed from lawful, good faith personnel actions.

· The injury was the result of unexpected or unusual conditions that were not typical of the job.

· The victim worked for the employer for less than six months.

Workers who have not been employed for at least six continuous months should note that the final requirement is cumulative.

Adequate evidence

Victims of psychological injuries may need to provide extensive documentation to show that their working conditions caused the injury. These workers' compensation claims hinge on the evaluation and testimony of a physician, which must consider many factors, including the victim's educational and employment records; performance reviews; and personal problems and health. Statements from co-workers and family members must also be taken into account.

Physical causation

In addition to covering purely psychological injuries, workers' compensation benefits may be available if a person has developed a mental injury as a result of a physical injury. The physical injury in question must qualify as compensable; in other words, it must have occurred in the course of the employee's job duties and been reported within 30 days to the employer.

Employees must meet the same standards in these claims as they must in claims that involve purely psychiatric injuries. However, establishing causal links between working conditions, a physical injury and a psychological injury may be slightly more straightforward.

Seeking guidance

Making a successful workers' compensation claim for a psychological injury can be challenging, since documenting the existence, causes and impacts of these injuries is rarely a simple task. Considering this, most victims may benefit from seeking the aid of an attorney who has experience handling these unusual cases.