There are many ways our jobs can make us ill. People who work in hazardous environments may be exposed to toxic substances that cause chronic illnesses. Warehouse and construction workers are at risk on a daily basis of suffering a fall or crushing injury. Retail and clerical workers often suffer from repetitive-use and other soft tissue injuries. Any employee—from a custodian to a CEO—could slip and fall at work. All of these types of injuries and illnesses qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
But can you get workers’ comp for one of the most common complaints about the workplace—high levels of stress? The answer is not a simple one.
Qualifying for Workers’ Comp
With a physical injury or illness, qualifying for workers’ comp is fairly straightforward. As long as there is medical proof that you're injured or ill, and you can provide documentation the injury or illness was caused by something in the workplace, you should receive benefits to cover your medical expenses and time away from work.
However, when you believe your symptoms are related to the stress you experience on the job, it will be much more difficult to prove. This is because the burden of proof is much higher for psychological symptoms. You will have to be able to answer the following in the affirmative:
- Has the stress resulted in serious impairment?
- Can it be proven that the cause of the stress was primarily work-related?
- Was the stress above the normal level for the position?
While a claimant may be able to provide evidence of a psychiatric condition that prevented her from working, proving that job conditions were the primary cause of the condition can be quite difficult.
Investigators will interview co-workers and supervisors about the workplace climate and whether the claimant had other sources of stress in her life. In order to qualify for benefits, there must be strong evidence of “objectively stressful work conditions” and that the claimant’s stress was extraordinary or unusual compared to others in the same profession.
This is usually the most difficult piece to prove. If you have a stressful job and just don’t cope well, that will not qualify for benefits. You have to prove that you are suffering undue stress—for example, from a difficult boss or unsafe conditions—that others aren't experiencing, and that it has led to psychiatric or physical symptoms.
An Example of a Workplace Stress Claim
A recent case in Missouri illustrates the difficulty of obtaining benefits for workplace stress. While Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys was not involved in this case, we offer it as an example of what it takes to win workers’ comp benefits for stress.
In 2015, a Missouri Department of Transportation worker filed for workers’ comp benefits for permanent psychological injury caused by exposure to “horrific scenes of carnage, death, and human tragedy over 20 years” as a highway worker. Her claim was denied because she failed to establish that the stress was extraordinary or unusual compared to others in the same profession.
However, her denial was overturned on appeal and she was granted benefits. The appeals court determined that the specific examples the claimant gave of the scenes she witnessed and the trauma she experienced could not be compared to other workers, and therefore met her burden of proof.
Illnesses Caused by Workplace Stress
Along with psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety, stress can contribute to physical ailments. If your psychological symptoms go untreated and you continue to be exposed to high levels of stress, you risk experiencing the following health problems:
- Heart disease
- Gastrointestinal disorders
It's important that you have the financial resources to treat the psychological effects of workplace stress before these physical ailments arise. Workers’ comp may provide you with those resources.
We Can Help
If you're unable to work because of health conditions caused by stress in the workplace, you may be able to qualify for workers’ comp benefits, but you need the help of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to present a strong claim. We will help you determine whether your job duties can be connected to the stress that has led to your illness and inability to work. Contact us through the link on this page for more information.