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When is an emotional work injury compensable under CA law?

If you are like many working Americans, you may feel as if your work has taken a huge toll on your emotional health. You may also wonder if you can file a workers’ compensation claim for the compensation you need to receive appropriate treatment.

The good news is that California is one of the few states that allows workers to file claims for psychological work-related injuries. However, because of the complexity and often questionable nature of psychological injuries, California workers’ comp law maintains special requirements that claimants must meet to collect benefits. California Labor Code 3208.3 explains what makes a psychiatric injury compensable.

Special workers’ comp requirements for psychiatric injuries

Psychiatric claims — otherwise known as “stress claims” or “mental-mental” claims — are those that arise from work injuries that are purely psychological in nature. While state law does not disallow these claims, it requires a higher evidence threshold than it does for physical injuries. This is for three main reasons. The first is that psychological injuries stem strictly from employees’ internal experiences and not from obvious conditions. The second is that it is difficult for doctors to verify psychological injuries via tests and imaging. Third and finally, psychiatric injuries can have several causes, many of which can be completely personal and non-work-related in nature.

Because of these three factors, the state has established several requirements for stress-related claims. A few of those are as follows:

  • Your doctor diagnosed the mental disorder via accepted procedures
  • You worked for your employer for at least six months before receiving the diagnosis, unless the injury is the result of a sudden and astonishing condition
  • Your disorder prevented you from completing some of your work tasks or attending work entirely
  • You can prove that “actual events of employment” were the primary cause of your mental injury (meaning they were at least 51% responsible)

Rules for filing a claim after receiving a layoff notice

If you file a claim for psychological injuries after receiving a layoff notice or notice of termination, or after submitting a voluntary notice of termination, you must prove, beyond a preponderance of evidence, that “actual events of employment” were the primary cause of your harms. You must also prove that you submitted a notice of psychiatric injury before you received or submitted the notice; that your injury is the result of a sudden and extraordinary event of employment; that your medical records contain evidence of the injury and treatment for it from prior to the notice; that findings of racial or sexual harassment exist; and/or that evidence exists that you developed your injury at the same time as the notice of the layoff but before the layoff itself.

Though California law allows you to file a claim for psychiatric injuries does not mean it makes it easy to collect compensation.