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Proving the Impossible: How Employees with Mental Injuries Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits

A recent study done by the American Psychological Association shows that 36% of workers typically feel stressed or tense during their workday. Stress and tension can be caused by many different triggers and does not always have the same effects on people. Sometimes, an employee can experience enough stress and tension at work that it causes a mental injury. More often than not, mental illness is an invisible injury and can be hard to prove that it arose as a result of stress from the workplace. Often times, these injuries are brought on from trauma that has been suffered in the workplace, i.e. being the victim of robbery or assault at work, being involved in a serious accident, suffering a traumatic injury, or being subjected to repeated harassment. When an employee is subjected to trauma and suffers from a resulting mental injury, there may not be any recourse available for them through workers’ compensation.

 

Some Courts are Set in Their Own Ways

 

For the past 30 years, the only time a Pennsylvania employee could receive workers’ compensation benefits was when the worker could show that the psychological injury suffered was a result from “abnormal working conditions.” The theory of abnormal working conditions was extremely tough to prove because it could not be based on the employee’s subjective reaction to the stress; instead, an employee claiming abnormal working conditions must “prove by objective evidence that he has suffered a psychiatric injury and he must prove that such injury is other than a subjective reaction to normal working conditions.” Of course, this rule proves to be confusing to many.

 

Employees with mental injuries from the workplace have been denied benefits because this standard is so hard to overcome. In one case, a woman was denied workers’ compensation benefits for a mental injury she suffered after being robbed at gunpoint where she worked. The court reasoned that being robbed at gunpoint could not be considered abnormal working conditions when the store was the kind of establishment that was robbed frequently, i.e. a gas station or liquor store. Although this reasoning may seem very abnormal, it has been the standard for over 30 years.

 

Changing with the Times

 

Recently, Pennsylvania courts have started to change the way in which it views mental injuries in the workplace. Courts are shying away from the narrow and stringent “abnormal working conditions” test and are looking at a broader approach. In recent years, courts have granted workers’ compensation benefits to employees who suffered a mental injury in the workplace by looking at the entire event that the employee claims triggered the mental injury to determine whether the events represented “a singular, extraordinary event” that occurred during the employee’s shift, which subsequently caused the mental injury.

 

While this change in perspective does not open the floodgates to workers’ compensation benefits for mental injuries, it does help those who have justifiable mental injuries that were caused in the workplace receive benefits they are entitled to. Determining whether you have a viable workers’ compensation claim for benefits due to a mental injury is a highly-fact sensitive issue to analyze. If you believe that you have suffered a mental injury, or any injury, as a result of your employment, it is important to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in Philadelphia that is knowledgeable in this area of law.

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