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Workplace Safety

Mental Health and Workers Comp: What’s Your Liability?

By September 9, 2016No Comments

wc-sept2016-2Workers compensation can feel like a minefield, especially when it seems like all the power rests with your employees. When people who don’t follow directions or are goofing around during their breaks can be injured and then sue you for damages, you might feel helpless to safeguard yourself. The power you’re looking for comes from being prepared when you walk into work in the morning, when you hire someone and how you interact with your employees. And you should be aware that mental health may play a significant role in workers comp. Even though it can feel like a subjective matter at times, it’s good to know how it fits into the larger framework of taking care of your staff.

A Matter of Proof

There is a possibility you’ll be held responsible for a person’s mental health damages, but it will be up to the employee to prove that this mental illness would not have developed had they not been under a specific amount of stress at work. It would have to be classified as an abnormal working environment, which again, leaves a lot open for interpretation. When people attempt to prove this on their own without having hired a lawyer, the judge tends to err on the side of employers. Many lawyers won’t actually touch these cases due to the fact that without any type of permanent physical injury, it can be difficult to show that a person is suffering from a sustained psychiatric state that is more or less expected to resolve itself once the stress of the job has gone away. They’re likely only to be paid when they win, so it’s just risky for the lawyers.

The Warning

Despite your odds, that doesn’t mean you should dismiss a mental health request, especially considering that mental health problems are increasingly more accepted as a reason for disability insurance by the federal government. With this type of validation, judges may start to give a bit more weight to these cases based on the right evidence. If you are approached by an employee for being under a great amount of stress, say if they have to work with unfriendly coworkers or are expected to deal with crises on a regular basis, then you may want to see if it’s possible to lighten the load. Hopefully you’ve already implemented hiring practices that might weed out someone who would try to get out of doing his or her job at this point. Also, people are likely to win their case claiming mental health problems if they’ve also been physically injured as well – another warning for you to be as cautious as possible when dealing with workers comp issues.