If you find yourself suffering from a severe stress-related workplace injury, you may be wondering, “can I even sue my employer for stress and anxiety”?
The short answer to that question is yes, but it’s complicated.
Stress in the workplace is as common, if not more common, than physical workplace injuries. Similar to the wide range of potential physical workplace injuries employees may sustain, severe stress-related injuries are likely to necessitate time away from work or limit the ability of employees to perform their regular job duties.
However, unlike physical injuries, stress-related injuries are often extremely challenging to diagnose and attribute to a single event, have a range of symptoms, severity, and disability unique to each patient, and are afforded considerably less attention and benefits from government programs like workers’ compensation.
For typical physical workplace injuries, state workers’ compensation laws provide injured employees financial benefits in the form of full medical treatment coverage, replacement of lost wages, and specific loss benefits.
After a workplace accident or injury, employees seeking workers’ compensation benefits should inform their employer of the injury they suffered, report to a physician for diagnosis and treatment, and file a claim with their state’s department of labor (or other state agency which handles workers’ comp claims).
Unfortunately, for employees seeking workers’ compensation for stress and anxiety, this process is not nearly as straightforward.
Mental Stress Categorizations
Workers’ compensation laws (regardless of state) generally classify workplace mental distress claims (stemming from stress-related injuries) under one of three categorizations.
Physical-mental injuries are those which occur as the direct result of or in the immediate aftermath of a physical workplace injury.
For example, an employee who suffers a debilitating injury while operating heavy machinery may also develop serious anxiety from the incident which, in the most extreme circumstances, can prevent them from being able to regularly operate that machinery in the future (once they’re healed from the physical injury).
These injuries, in comparison to the other two categories of stress-related workplace injuries, are the easiest workers comp stress claims to win, as they are directly attributable to a physical workplace injury and are recognized by most state’s workers’ compensation laws.
Mental-physical injuries are physical injuries which occur as the result of extreme mental distress in the workplace.
One of the more common examples of a mental-physical workplace injury is the development of stomach ulcers in employees who work long hours under extreme pressure and stress.
Because these injuries are not typically linked to a specific injury or accident, they are more challenging to diagnose and attribute to workplace activity.
This explains why successful workers’ comp claims for stress-induced ulcers and other mental-physical injuries are much less frequent than that of other mental injury claims.
Mental-mental injuries are those which occur as the result of psychological trauma in the workplace.
Extreme examples of mental-mental injuries include post-traumatic stress disorder developed following a violent workplace incident, such as a robbery or hostage situation. They can also be the result of workplace verbal abuse and harassment.
Common symptoms of mental-mental injuries include anxiety, chronic depression, panic attacks, insomnia and suicidal thoughts.
Because mental-mental injuries are often linked to abnormal work conditions and events, they are generally covered by workers’ compensation laws, yet claims require a considerable amount of proof to be successful.
Individuals seeking workers comp benefits for stress-related injuries will need to review their state’s specific laws to determine which injuries qualify for benefits and the best way to file a workman’s comp claim for stress in their state.
Can I File A Workers’ Compensation Claim for Stress in Pennsylvania?
The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act extends benefits to all three categorizations of mental distress (stress-related injury) claims, with varying burdens of proof depending upon the nature of the injury.
Physical-mental injuries and mental-physical injuries share a burden of proof known as a “preponderance of the evidence” burden. Essentially, this burden requires claimants (injured employees) to demonstrate that there is a greater than 50% probability that the injuries for which they are seeking benefits occurred as a result of workplace activity.
Mental-mental injury claims have a considerably higher burden of proof, which requires claimants to prove their injury was the result of an “abnormal working condition.”
Under Pennsylvania law, claimants seeking workers’ compensation benefits for stress induced mental-mental injuries must be independently diagnosed by a physician, and have their injuries conclusively attributed to an extraordinarily traumatic workplace event or prolonged period of abnormal (unlawful) working conditions.
Mental-mental injuries arising from normal stress at work are ineligible for compensation.
How to File a Workers’ Comp Claim for Stress in Pennsylvania
The filing process for stress-related workers’ compensation claims is as follows.
1. Immediately report the injury to your employer.
After suffering (or getting diagnosed with) a stress-related workplace injury, you should report the incident and/or injury to your employer within 21 days, to ensure any benefits you receive are retroactive to your date of injury.
If you’re unable to report your injury within those first 21 days, you’re still eligible for benefits (beginning at the reporting date) so long as you file a report within 120 days of the injury’s occurrence.
Pennsylvania law requires that medical treatment be sought within the first 90 days of notice of your injury to your employer.
Informing your medical provider that your injury is work-related is an essential component of the workers’ compensation claims process, as it creates the necessary documentation to attribute your injury to workplace activity and can have a determinative effect on your claim outcome.
3. File your workers’ compensation claim with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.
After your employer files their First Report of Injury with the state, you have three years to file your workers’ compensation claim with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.
Once your claim is filed and compensability is determined, the workers’ comp stress claim settlement negotiations can begin.
In the event your claim does not meet the guidelines for compensability under Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law, you may be eligible to pursue damages for psychological and emotional trauma via alternative means, such as a personal injury lawsuit.
The experienced attorneys at Krasno Krasno & Onwudinjo are here to assist you in all aspects of your workers’ compensation claim. To schedule a free consultation, email us today. You may also call (844) 243-4849 or toll-free at 877-794-2396.