Physical injuries caused by a workplace accident are among the most common type of workers’ compensation cases. Chronic pain and repetitive stress injuries are more complex and challenging. Then, there are psychological disabilities. These are the most difficult workers’ compensation cases and require the expertise of a seasoned workers’ compensation lawyer.
What is a Psychological Disability?
It is sometimes referred to as psychological trauma or a psychiatric injury. Whatever you want to call it, it is a mental disorder of any kind that is caused—at least in part—by the workplace. There may be an incident or violent altercation with a fellow co-worker that leads to trauma. It could be a result of ongoing psychological abuse at the workplace.
Factors Impacting Employees’ Mental Health
Employees’ mental health can be negatively impacted by environmental, organizational and individual factors. Environmental causes include unsafe noise levels, equipment and accidents and organizational causes can include poor support from management, constant change and high levels of stress. Individual factors, such as personality and past experiences, can make an employee more likely to suffer a psychological injury. An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer will help injured employees identify the causes of their psychological disability.
5 Common Causes of Psychological Injury
Employees can experience significant psychological stress as a result of job insecurity, work overload, bullying and harassment, difficult customers and shift work.
Uncertainty surrounding organizational restructures, mergers and redundancies can take a toll on employees’ mental and physical health. Research has shown that stress caused by chronic job insecurity is a stronger predictor of poor health than smoking or hypertension.
Contract workers are more likely to experience stress from job insecurity and may worry about finding their next job if or when their contract is over. Contractors typically don’t have access to employee-sponsored health benefits and are less likely to seek professional psychological help than full-time employees. Some contractors may believe they can’t afford to take time off work because they don’t have paid time off.
Work overload can cause stress for employees who work for understaffed organizations. Work-related stress could cause poor performance, depression, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Highly competitive organizations may set impossibly high performance targets, causing employees to worry about their individual performance and feel incompetent. High expectations can make it difficult for employees to relax at home and receive the rest they need.
Bullying and harassment in the workplace can cause significant emotional and psychological harm. Workplace bullying can be characterized by verbal, physical, social and psychological attacks. Hurtful comments, exclusion, sexual harassment, initiations, threats, demeaning work, manipulation, pushing, shoving and tripping can cause severe stress, anxiety and depression. Employees will dread coming to work, suffer from poor self-esteem and lose satisfaction with work.
Difficult customers are a common problem for many businesses. However, some employees are at increased risk of stress caused by difficult customers. Customer service employees may struggle with managing fear and stress even after a conflict with a customer has been resolved. How a worker deals with a resolved incident may cause far more damage than the actual incident itself. Some employees may worry about how they will deal with the next conflict.
Night shift work disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm and leads to higher levels of stress and dissatisfaction. A British study of nurses showed that those who worked night shifts had lower levels of job satisfaction due to physical and psychological symptoms of stress. The stress of working the night shift can be exacerbated by the loss of family time and social activities.
Workers’ Compensation Claim Requirements
Typically, psychological disabilities must meet the following requirements to be eligible for any type of workers’ compensation:
Must have worked for the employer for at least six (6) months (employment does not have to be continuous and the six-month minimum does not apply if it was a sudden and extraordinary event)
The work environment, job activities or a specific incident must account for greater than 50% of the psychiatric injury (in the event of a violent act, only 35-40% must be shown to have been caused by work)
The psychological disability cannot be a consequence of a physical injury (in this instance, workers’ compensation benefits received for a physical injury may cover psychological treatment)
Determining the Extent of a Psychiatric Injury
As you can see, psychological disability workers’ compensation cases are very tricky to navigate, especially when the damage is done over time compared to one traumatic incident. Psychiatric injuries are evaluated in California by using the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Third Edition, Revised). California law also separates psychological disabilities into two different assessments. First is determining whether or not there is a psychiatric injury. Second is determining the amount of the psychological permanent disability as it pertains to your ability to work.
Poor performance reviews and reprimands cannot be used to file a psychological disability workers’ compensation claim. Those are covered as “good faith personnel actions” and a natural part of any job. Many other factors will be taken under consideration to prove that the mental disorder was caused by a workplace incident or compounded by the job over time.
The Benefits of Hiring a Workers’ Compensation Attorney
It is extremely important to hire a workers’ compensation attorney to help you through the process of filing a claim as a result of a psychological disability. This is especially true if a family member has suffered a psychiatric injury and is unable to properly represent themselves. You want to make sure each step of the claim process is done correctly, from the psychological evaluations and psychiatric diagnoses to filing all the necessary documentation with your claim. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will oversee the entire process to make sure each step is properly executed.
Injured employees can expect a battle with their employer and their insurance company, who will do everything they can to disprove the worker’s claim of psychological trauma. These types of workers’ compensation cases are complex and contentious, so having an experienced workers’ compensation attorney will make all the difference.
Thomas F. Martin is a workers’ compensation lawyer in Orange County, CA who has helped many injured workers receive the benefits they deserved. You can trust him and his team to guide you through the claim process and fight for your best interests. Contact Thomas today to learn more about how he can help you get the workers’ compensation benefits you deserve.