Two Ways to Substantiate Your Stress-Based Workers' Compensation Claim

Most workers' compensation claims have to do with physical injuries, such as broken limbs or illnesses caused by toxic substances. However, employees can also obtain benefits for mental or emotional illnesses caused by on-the-job stress. The trouble with these types of claims, however, is that you must prove the stress you experienced went above and beyond what's considered normal for your position and industry. This can be very challenging to show, but here are two things you can do to prove your case.

Base Your Claim on a Specific Traumatizing Event

You'll probably have a better chance of winning your case if you base your stress claim on a specific event that caused you to experience your mental or emotional distress. For instance, if you were unfortunate enough to be the victim of workplace violence (e.g. mass shooting), you could use that as the basis of your claim and provide evidence from mental health and medical professionals showing the negative impact the incident had on you.

The event doesn't necessarily have to be life-threatening to qualify. Daily sexual or racial harassment or similar behavior from one or multiple individuals in the workplace may also meet the standard required by the workers' compensation insurance company for benefits. Be aware, though, that if you end up in court, the judge or jury will typically use a reasonable person standard when evaluating your claim. This means they will consider whether a reasonable person would find the situation you were involved in as stressful as you did. Therefore, it's important that you be as objective as possible when deciding which incident (or series of incidents) to base on your claim on.

Have an Expert Testify About the Situation

Another option for validating a stress-based workers' compensation claim is to have an expert witness testify about how the stress you experienced in your workplace deviated from the norm. There are many vocational experts, sociologists, and researchers who study employment and workplace issues. If you can find one who has expertise in your industry, you can have the person provide testimony about the kind of stress typically experienced on the job and how the stress you were subjected to differed.

For example, it's normal at software companies to experience what's called crunch time. This is a period of time during product development when workers put in extra effort (e.g. work increased hours) to reach a major milestone. This is usually balanced out by slow periods when labor demands are lower. If your workplace goes into an extended crunch time that lasts for years, you can have an industry expert testify about how unusual that is and the effect it had on you.

However, be aware that the situation must be something that you couldn't have anticipated. If, when you were hired, your employer adequately explained the workplace conditions or you had reason to know the type of stress you would experience at your job would be unusual, your claim may be declined because you knew in advance and agreed to work under those conditions.

For more information about or assistance with proving your workers' compensation claim, contact a workers' compensation attorney.