Stress as a Basis for Workers Compensation

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Job-related stress may have physiological fall-out for workers, manifesting in ulcers, migraines, and other conditions. Stress can also lead to psychological problems that inhibit job performance. Because of the connection between stress, health and performance, many state workers compensation programs now recognize stress as a compensable "illness." Because of the current economic reality, work-related stress issues are expected to rise more than ever.

Statistics for Workplace Stress

A recent report from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health noted the following:

  • 40% of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful;
  • 25% stated that their job was the number one stressor in their lives;
  • 26 percent of workers said they were "often or very often burned out or stressed by their work";
  • There is a strong nexus between job stress and health complaints.

Workers Compensation

Although workers' compensations stress claims have risen in nearly all states, many states vary about how to define workplace stress. The most widely accepted definition of workplace stress is provided by NIOSH:

"Job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury."

Stress can arise due to a number of factors including harassment, hostile work environment, pressed deadlines and unrealistic job expectations. Any of these situations may bring on chronic physical, mental and emotional problems. The employee bears the burden of proving that the stress is compensable.

Because many workers compensation laws are ambiguous about compensation for stress, employees may have more difficulty bringing a claim. While some states allow claims for mental and emotional disabilities that arise out of physical injuries or illnesses, other states may have more restrictions regarding mental and stress-related issues not related to work-related physical injuries or illness.

Even as more states recognize workplace stress as compensable, other states still restrict what types of mental stress an employee may claim. For example, in a recent Illinois case (Cook v. Pactiv and Peters v. Albertson/Jewel Food Stores, the Commission overseeing workers' compensation ruled against compensability for certain mental and held that compensation for psychological injuries does not include mental injuries caused by stressful situations characteristic of the normal workplace. The Commission laid out the burden of the plaintiff:

  1. A mental disorder must arise in a situation where stress is greater than the day to day emotional strain experienced by all employees,
  2. The condition exists in reality, from an objective standpoint, and
  3. The employment conditions were obviously a contributing factor to the mental disorder.

California's workers compensation system has historically paid out claims for stress-related disabilities. In California, the number of Workers' compensation claims for mental stress increased by almost 700 percent over eight years; 90 percent of the claims were successful with an average payout of $15,000 compared to a national average of $3,420.

Consult Legal Help

If you suffer from work-related stress, you may be able to receive benefits under your state's workers compensation system. However, there may be certain restrictions regarding what types of mental or psychological conditions you can claims. Talk with an experienced attorney about stress workers comp in your state.

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