Under federal law, all states must have a workers' compensation program. If an injury is job related, the employer must compensate the employee for the wages he or she loses while unable to work. Physical and psychological injuries are compensable. Thus, if you can't work because of job-related depression or anxiety, you qualify for workers' compensation. There is a catch, though: States differ in how they define "job-related" depression.
Definition of Job-Related Injury
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For any job-related injury to be compensable, it must directly relate to the job. An injury isn't necessarily job related just because it happened at the workplace. Many states will not allow you to receive workers' compensation for job-related injuries if you incurred those injuries while committing a crime or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Also, if your job-related injury occurred because you violated a company rule or policy, in some states you will be ineligible for workers' compensation.
Although some employers still don't view psychological injuries related to the workplace as "real," they do qualify for workers' compensation in most states. Unlike physical injuries, however, job-related psychological injuries come in two separate categories -- and some states only recognize one of those categories as legitimate for workers' compensation purposes.
Primary Job-Related Depression
Primary job-related depression is depression or anxiety directly attributable to something happening in the workplace. Workplace bullying and sexual harassment that cause depression are examples of primary job-related depression. Some states don't recognize these strictly mental injuries as legitimate for workers' compensation purposes, however. Other states may make it much more difficult to get workers' compensation in such cases. Employees might have to show extraordinary circumstances that would not be necessary to prove for physical injuries.
Secondary Job-Related Depression
If an employee's depression or anxiety arises out of a job-related physical injury, it's much easier in most states to successfully claim workers' compensation. For example, if you're seriously injured at work as the result of your employer's negligence or while carrying out tasks outside your job description, you'd be eligible for workers' compensation for those physical injuries. Then, if you became clinically depressed or developed an anxiety disorder as a result of your physical injuries, workers' compensation would cover those costs as well.
Courts have increasingly recognized job-related depression or anxiety as legitimate injuries under workers' compensation. But each state has its own rules, and those rules vary widely as to the types of circumstances in which employers are liable for these psychological injuries when they occur in the workplace or as a result of workplace activities. Your best bet if you have job-related depression or anxiety is to consult an attorney who knows the law in the relevant state.
- Black & Black: Workers' Compensation Depression and Anxiety
- Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online: Workers' Compensation Claim for Mental Injuries Stemming From Work With Aggressive Patients
- Legal Info: Type of Injuries Covered By Workers' Compensation
- The Free Dictionary: Workers' Compensation
- Disability Secrets: What Injuries Aren't Covered by Workmans' Comp?
- U.S. Department of Labor: Workers' Compensation
- Cornell University Law School: Legal Information Institute
- Nolo: Workers' Compensation Benefits FAQ
- LawFirms.com: Workers Compensation: Medical Issues and Injuries Covered
- Workers' Compensation Watch: Workers' Compensation for Psychological or Emotional Injury
Kathy Kattenburg has been a writer for more than 30 years. Her articles have been published in "N.J. Jewish News" and "Suburban Essex," and she is a contributing writer and full partner at Not the Singularity. Kattenburg has a BA in English literature from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.