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Seeking workers’ compensation for psychological injuries in New York

Psychological injuries may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits in New York if they arise from abnormal stress and unprotected employer actions.

When many people in Staten Island think of workplace injuries, they imagine acute injuries, repetitive stress injuries or exposure-related illnesses. Most people may overlook the potential for psychological injuries, such as depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder. However, these psychological injuries can be just as debilitating as physical injuries, and they may affect many workers in New York.

Fortunately for these workers, New York ranks among the states that recognize purely mental work-related injuries as compensable. However, workers must meet specific and potentially challenging criteria to secure workers’ compensation benefits for these injuries.

‘In the course of employment’

According to the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, a work-related injury is only compensable if it arises directly in the course of an employee’s job. Workers may show that psychological injuries arose in the course of employment in various ways, including the following:

  • The injury was a byproduct of an established physical work-related injury.
  • The injury occurred as the result of a traumatic incident that occurred while the employee was performing his or her job.
  • The injury developed as the cumulative result of adverse conditions that the employee faced in the course of his or her work.

In any of these situations, workers may need extensive documentation from qualified medical professionals and co-workers to support their claims. Documenting a psychological injury that developed gradually, rather than in response to a specific event, may be especially challenging.

Above-average workplace stress

Under New York law, psychological injuries only qualify for workers’ compensation benefits if they were caused by an above-average amount of stress. In other words, employees must show that they faced a greater level of stress than other employees typically face. Workers don’t have to prove that this stress was the sole cause of the mental injury, but it must be a sizable contributing factor.

It is important to note, however, that the injury does not have to be caused by a singular stressful event. Injuries caused by a gradual build-up of stress over an extended period of time also qualify.

Protected employer actions

There are a few situations in which workers cannot receive workers’ compensation benefits, even if they suffered significant psychological distress. Employers are generally protected in making various personnel decisions, including transfers, demotions, disciplinary actions and terminations. However, this protection is only available when employers undertake these actions in good faith. A worker may have grounds for a claim if an employer acted unlawfully or maliciously.

Handling potential complications

In most cases, documenting the circumstances that gave rise to a psychological injury may be challenging. Similarly, proving that one of these injuries is disabling enough to affect an employee’s ability to work may be difficult. To address these issues, workers who have suffered from mental injuries may benefit from meeting with a workers’ compensation attorney to discuss the situation and start preparing a claim.