Connecticut Legislature Seeks to Expand Work Comp Coverage for Psychological Injury

Man under stressThe Connecticut legislature is entertaining two separate proposals to increase workers’ compensation benefits for people who experience psychological or emotional distress related to exposure to workplace violence. Efforts to amend the state’s workers’ compensation laws to address this concern have failed in each of the last two legislative sessions.

Connecticut seeks to join New Jersey and some other nearby states (Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York) in allowing workers to recover compensation for so-called “mental-mental” injuries. Workers’ compensation customarily views psychological injury three ways:

  • Physical-mental injuries, where a physical injury leads to mental disability, i.e., a blow to the head leads to memory loss or brain injury. These types of injuries are almost always compensable.
  • Mental-physical injuries, where stress, depression, anxiety or other mental conditions caused by some work-related activity result in physical problems, such as high blood pressure or heart disease. These types of injuries are frequently compensable.
  • Mental-mental injuries, where some mental experience at work, such as witnessing an accident, causes emotional or psychological impairment. These types of injuries are the most difficult to prove, and getting compensation for them poses significant challenges.

Ironically, Connecticut routinely provided workers’ compensation benefits to people suffering emotional or mental distress, even in the absence of physical symptoms, until 1993. Since the legislature amended the workers’ compensation laws that year, claimants in Connecticut may only recover for mental or emotional injuries if there are also physical injuries.

The bills before the Connecticut legislature specifically address the situation where a worker either witnesses the death or serious injury of a co-worker, is exposed to workplace violence, or witnesses the aftermath of either. The bill is opposed by ambulance workers, who fear that their workers’ compensation premiums will skyrocket if the bill is passed.

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