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Psychiatric Injuries At Work

Colburn Law

Under Washington state law, employees have the right to recover compensation for any physical injuries or illnesses they receive while performing duties related to their jobs. However, physical ailments are not the only hazards that can occur at work. Mental stress and psychiatric injury can lead to significant hardship as well, and many working environments can lead to these damages. Does Washington workers’ compensation cover these conditions?

Does Washington Workers’ Comp Cover Mental Stress?

Under Washington’s workers’ compensation system, mental health conditions that an employee develops as a result of his or her job are eligible for compensation. Like physical injuries and illnesses, an employee can receive compensation to obtain medical treatment to recover from his or her injuries as well as disability benefits.

However, only certain instances of mental injury qualify for benefits. Some of the most common types of impairments that could receive workers’ compensation include the following.

  • Severe phobias that impact a person’s ability to do his or her job
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Memory loss or amnesia
  • Severe depression and anxiety
  • Dementia

An employee can claim workers’ compensation for psychiatric reasons if the conditions satisfies one of the following conditions.

  • He or she developed the mental stress or psychiatric injury as a result of a work-related physical injury or illness, or the physical injury made the mental illness worse.
  • He or she developed the mental illness as a result of work-related conditions or activities.

Typically, Washington employees have a greater chance of receiving benefits if their psychiatric injury is the result of another work-related physical injury. This is because medical evidence is available to provide a concrete cause of the injury. It is more difficult to prove a case of work-related mental illness without a physical cause.

How Do You Prove Psychiatric Injury for Workers’ Compensation?

In order to receive workers’ compensation benefits, a Washington employee will need to provide an opinion on how his or her job duties led to the mental injury. The employee will need to use the American Psychiatric Association’s Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to provide a basis for these claims.

Unlike physical injuries, an employee with a mental illness does not need to provide objective medical evidence to receive workers’ compensation benefits. The employee will need to undergo a mental health evaluation by a mental health examiner, however. This evaluation will be a major piece of evidence for the workers’ compensation claim.

The examiner will determine whether or not a mental injury is present and whether or not the injury is a result of workplace events. He or she will also analyze any contributing factors that could be influencing the mental illness as well. At the end of the evaluation, the examiner will provide an opinion that the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) will use to determine whether or not the employee can receive benefits.

Benefits for Psychiatric Injury in Washington

If a Washington employee successfully applies for workers’ compensation for his or her mental injury, he or she can receive compensation for a number of benefits. All of these payments must work towards rehabilitating the employee so he or she can return to work.

  • Treatment costs for the mental injury, including hospitalization, medication, and therapy appointments
  • Treatment costs for any associated physical injury related to the psychiatric condition, including surgeries and mobility accommodations
  • Disability benefits under the employee can return to work, allowing for recovery of lost wages

If the employee reaches maximum medical improvement and is able to return to work, he or she may still suffer from the mental illness. In these situations, he or she may be eligible for permanent partial disability benefits. The amount the employee receive will depend on how severe the injury is.

Washington employees suffering from work-related mental injury should seek an attorney to assist them with their workers’ compensation case. Proving these cases can be difficult due to a lack of concrete evidence, and L&I may deny the claim. If you are suffering from a work-related psychiatric condition, contact an attorney as soon as possible to begin the claims process.