When most people consider workers’ compensation, they typically think about a person who suffers some type of physical injury at work — such as falling from a high place, being crushed by equipment, or even losing a finger in a machinery accident. Yet workers’ compensation covers more than just injuries due to accidents. It also offers benefits for people who become ill as a result of their work — including work-related mental illness.
Physical injuries and illnesses are often easy to identify. If a person is exposed to a toxic chemical at work, it is understandable that they may be entitled to workers’ comp benefits for their resulting sickness. But when a person suffers from an invisible illness, like stress or anxiety, it may be more difficult to obtain benefits because the connection is not as obvious.
If you have been diagnosed with stress or anxiety as a result of your work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An experienced New Jersey workers’ comp attorney can help you put together a strong case for benefits, from documenting your illness to the final resolution of your claim.
Eligibility for Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation is a system of no-fault insurance coverage for employees who are injured or become ill on the job. In New Jersey and most other states, employers are required to purchase this type of insurance. Because workers’ comp is “no-fault,” you do not need to prove that your employer did something wrong in order to be eligible for benefits.
To qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, you must be an employee, rather than an independent contractor. From there, you will be eligible for benefits if you suffered an injury or illness related to your work. For example, if you are on a computer all day at work, you may develop carpal tunnel syndrome from the repetitive actions of typing; this condition will generally qualify for workers’ comp benefits.
In New Jersey, if you are approved for workers’ comp, you may receive five different types of benefits, depending on your situation. This includes medical treatment, temporary total compensation benefits, permanent partial compensation benefits, permanent total benefits, and/or death benefits (for dependents of an employee who died from a work-related illness or injury). The exact value of your case will depend on the type and severity of your injury
Mental Health Conditions May Be Covered Under Workers’ Comp
In the workers’ compensation system, any type of work-related illness or injury may entitle you to receive benefits. This includes emotional and/or mental stress injuries that a worker suffers as a result of their job.
To qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, mental health injuries or illnesses must be severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to do their job. While most people suffer from stress or anxiety at work, it typically does not rise to the level of being unable to work.
However, for some employees, particularly bad work experiences or a difficult work environment may result in a diagnosis of a mental health issue. If this condition impairs their function to the point that they cannot do their job, then workers’ comp benefits may be awarded.
For example, a nurse in a busy emergency room may experience trauma from routinely seeing victims of violence and accidents. If her ability to work is compromised as a result of her anxiety diagnosis, then she may be able to seek medical treatment and get compensation for her lost wages while she recovers through workers’ compensation.
In other situations, an employee is harassed or attacked at work and may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This may also occur due to an increasingly common event: workplace shootings. Employees who suffer mental health issues related to these types of events may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits under New Jersey law.
Proving That Stress or Anxiety Is Work-Related
In a workers’ compensation case, if an employer challenges a claim, an employee bears the burden of demonstrating that their injury or illness is a result of their work — as opposed to an external source or pre-existing condition. With physical injuries, this is often relatively easy to prove. If you fall at work, then you can show a clear link between the fall and your injuries.
With mental health issues, showing a nexus between your condition and your job can be more challenging. In some cases, there is a traumatic event (like a shooting) that can be readily linked to your mental health condition. But in other situations, there may not be a direct connection between a single event (or a series of events) and your stress and anxiety.
Many mental health injuries arise over time, due to the nature of your work or difficulties at work. This can make it harder to prove that your injury was caused by work. For example, if your boss is abrasive, screams at you frequently, and imposes unreasonable deadlines, that could cause you significant anxiety — but it may be hard to prove that this anxiety isn’t the result of other situations in your life, such as financial stress.
One way to overcome this challenge is by working with experienced mental health professionals. They may be able to establish that the cause of your mental health issues is your job — and provide testimony to that effect. Thoroughly documenting the events of your workplace that impact your levels of stress and anxiety can also help.
In New Jersey, psychiatric claims for workers’ compensation do not require proof of physical injury. They may also occur gradually as well as due to a single traumatic event. However, to be compensable, a claim for mental health injuries or illnesses must meet the following elements:
- The working conditions must be objectively stressful;
- The believable evidence must support a finding that the worker reacted to the conditions as stressful;
- The objectively stressful working conditions must be “peculiar” to the particular workplace;
- There must be objective evidence supporting a claim of psychiatric disability;
- The court must consider the credibility of the entire case, including any predisposition that an employee brings to the job.
Under this standard, it can be difficult to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for stress or anxiety. This is particularly true if you attempt to handle the case on your own, without the assistance of an experienced New Jersey workers’ comp attorney. A skilled lawyer can assemble the proper evidence and put forth a case that increases the chances that your claim for workers’ compensation benefits will be approved.
We Can Help You File for Workers’ Compensation Benefits
Stress and anxiety are common among many workers in the United States. In most cases, these mental health issues do not interfere with a person’s ability to work. But if you are experiencing such a high level of work-related stress or anxiety that you cannot function at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Bross & Frankel is committed to helping employees who have suffered on-the-job illnesses or injuries get the benefits that they are entitled to under the law. We represent injured workers in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. To learn more about how we can help or to schedule a free claim review with a member of our team, contact our office today at 856-795-8880, or reach out online.
Rich Frankel is the managing partner of Bross & Frankel. He is a member of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bars. He has focused exclusively on disability and social security benefits since 2005.
Mr. Frankel joined what is now Bross & Frankel after having watched his father struggle with disability, fighting a lengthy illness. Mr. Frankel founded the firm’s veteran’s law practice and substantially grew the social security disability practice, focusing Bross & Frankel’s ability to fight for all of the disability benefits available to his clients.
Mr. Frankel additionally fights for clients in court, obtaining frequent victories in Social Security appeals and against insurance companies in Federal court.