New York State does compensate some workers for work-related mental health difficulties caused by stress on the job.
Of course, the state’s workers’ compensation does not cover every mental health issue, even if it arises from the job. The line between covered and not covered (compensable and not compensable) is where the legal disputes begin and end.
An apparent rise in PTSD coverage across America
Many see a national trend over the past few years toward workers’ compensation coverage for first responders with PTSD. If it truly is a trend, it has been spotty, state-to-state and slow.
These new state rules differ in big and small ways.
Laws in many states address “mental injury” or a similar phrase but make no mention of PTSD. Some cover first-responder PTSD only if it came from a severe physical injury. Some cover it for first responders “presumptively,” meaning they cover diagnosed PTSD just because of the job title unless the insurer can show the claim should be turned down.
States also differ about who counts as a first responder. A few states presumptively cover 911 emergency dispatchers, for example.
What about New York? What if I am not a first responder?
New York State’s Workers’ Compensation system does cover some workers for occupational, or job-caused, mental health problems. When psychiatric problems are covered, the coverage is not different in any essential way from coverage for physical injuries. And the mental injury can happen in an instant from one traumatic incident or it can develop over time from repeated exposure.
The key is that the stress cannot be the kind that “comes with the territory.” Instead, the stress must be greater than the usual stress other people with the same type of job experience in the same kind of workplace.
For example, the work of a schoolteacher is usually very stressful on many occasions in many ways. But to qualify for workers’ compensation for mental stress, the individual teacher would probably have to show that their stress came from an abnormally stressful situation compared to other teachers.
Exactly how you measure abnormal or unusual or exceptional stress is one of many issues that attorneys can help a worker argue in hopes of getting compensation for their stress disorder.
First responders have a lower bar, but how much lower?
New York State first responders do not have to show that their mental injury is from a work environment more stressful than that faced by other similar workers in what is, for them, a normal work environment.
On the other hand, the statute does say that the mental condition must be from “extraordinary work-related stress incurred in a work-related emergency.”
Once again, this could place the first responder in a position of having to show that their specific stress was “extraordinary.”