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Does California Workers’ Comp Law Recognize Purely Mental Injury Claims?

Professional psychotherapies and young woman suffering from mental injury

Not all injuries are obvious at first glance. In fact, not all injuries are physical. A psychological injury can be just as devastating and just as debilitating as a physical injury. People who suffer from severe depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions can find it nearly impossible to work–just as they would with a physical disability. Does California law recognize the severity of mental health conditions? If you’re unable to work because of a mental injury, can you collect workers’ compensation benefits? Continue reading to find out how the California workers’ compensation system treats mental injuries, and call a knowledgeable Riverside workers’ comp benefits attorney for help proving your injury and filing your claim.

Mental Injuries Caused by Workplace Stress Can Qualify for Workers’ Compensation

Under California law, mental injuries caused by the workplace can serve as grounds for workers’ compensation. The worker must suffer from an actual, diagnosed mental health condition, and the condition must have arisen as a result of the workplace or work duties. Proving a mental health claim for workers’ comp is more challenging than for a physical injury, but with the right legal counsel and evidence, workers can recover workers’ comp benefits for purely mental injuries.

How to File a Mental Injury Workers’ Comp Claim

Although California law recognizes that mental injuries can qualify for worker’s compensation, the law also acknowledges the differences between mental and physical injuries. Physical injuries can be objectively proven, often with a simple diagnostic test such as a CT scan or a blood test. Mental injuries, on the other hand, can be more difficult to prove, often requiring subjective analysis. California workers’ comp law sets certain requirements for proving a mental health claim to ensure that the mental injury is real and that it was actually connected to work.

To obtain workers’ comp benefits for a mental injury in California, the worker must establish the following:

  • The employee must have worked for their employer for at least six months, unless the injury was “sudden and extraordinary”;

  • The employee has been properly diagnosed with a “mental disorder” listed in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or a similarly well-regarded psychiatric manual;

  • The mental disorder must have caused the employee “disability” or the need for medical treatment; and

  • The employee must be able to show their mental disorder was “predominantly” (i.e., at least 51%) caused by events of employment, as opposed to other life circumstances. If the disorder was caused by a “violent act” at work, it’s enough to show that the event was a “substantial cause” (35% to 40% responsible) of the applicant’s disorder.

Certain exceptions apply. If the employer can prove the mental injury was caused by normal, good-faith behavior by employers–such as criticism of work performance, decisions about raises or promotions, or a change to the type of work assigned–then the employee cannot recover compensation. Additionally, claims filed after a worker was terminated are not compensable, outside of limited exceptions (such as if the injury was caused by harassment, sudden and extraordinary events of employment, or where the employer already knew of the injury).

If you or someone you love has been seriously hurt on the job in California, get help seeking the workers’ compensation benefits you’re owed by contacting the Riverside offices of Ochoa & Calderon for a consultation on your case.

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