At one point or another, most working individuals experience stress in the workplace. It’s pretty common. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health finds that more than half of employed Americans consider stress from their work a serious issue in their lives. Stress, especially work-related stress, is clearly linked to significant health conditions that manifest in physical (heart disease, obesity, asthma, accelerated aging, cancer, among many other conditions) or psychological form (e.g., clinical depression, emotional issues). It would be interesting though depressing to see collectively how many people in the United States suffer and die from these health conditions that are caused in substantial part by their work-related stress. In effect, for a lot of us, work stress is slowly killing us. Can workers’ compensation address this type of injury? Read on to find out.
Three Types of Mental Injury Claims
Less common health problems that occur at work are directly related to on-the-job injuries and, to a small extinct, on-the-job deaths. The costs of these latter injuries are often covered through workers’ compensation. Slowly, however, we are witnessing a slight uptick in workers’ compensation cases based on mental/psychological injuries. Generally, mental workers’ compensation claims fall within one of three categories:
- Physical-Mental injuries. This type of injury occurs when a physical injury progresses into a mental or psychological disability. For instance, you hurt your back on the job, and the chronic pain stemming from that back injury induces over time into clinical depression.
- Mental-Physical injuries. This type of injury occurs when a mental or psychological condition causes over time a physical condition, like the ones above-mentioned: heart disease, asthma, obesity, among many of the other physical manifestations of stress.
- Mental-Mental injuries. This type of injury develops when a psychological condition arises out of the worker’s employment and causes a psychological condition. For example, the case of the police officer in South Carolina who at the age of 34 years old, was a former Spartanburg County deputy sheriff. In the line of work, he killed a man in self-defense, that psychological occurrence on the job caused his post-traumatic stress disorder, and he was unable to work because of this psychological condition.
In South Carolina, these claims are difficult to win. Mental injuries are not as clear cut as an injured back from picking up a heavy load. First, to be compensable, there generally must be a direct causal link. Second, the injury must arise out of or occur during the course of your employment. When it comes to mental injuries, these linkages can prove difficult to connect and could include one or more causal links, work and non-work related. With regard to both the physical to mental and mental to physical claims, the lapse in time can be problematic.
Criteria for Mental Injury Qualifying for Compensation
Though the claims may be difficult to win, they are possible. An experienced attorney will know how to document and argue the claim for the mentally injured employee.
- Physical-Mental Claim. According to South Carolina Code 42-1-160, a physical to mental claim is not compensable unless the aggravation is either admitted by the employer or is found to be “causally related or connected to the injury or accident” by one of the following:
- An authorized physician;
- An authorized psychologist or psychiatrist; or
- Employee’s physician.
- Mental-Physical Claim. According to South Carolina Code 42-1-160, mental to physical claim is not compensable if the stress arose out of and in the course of employment that is incidental to normal employee/employer relationships, such as:
- Disciplinary actions;
- Work evaluations;
- Salary reviews; or, among others,
A mental to physical claim, however, is compensable when the above actions have been undertaken in an extraordinary and unusual manner. Abuse has been found to be one such “extraordinary and unusual manner.”
- Mental-Mental Claim. In terms of the mental to mental claim, as in the case of Bentley, the police officer, South Carolina law states, the claim can only succeed by a preponderance of evidence, which includes (1) causation; and (2) employment conditions that were extraordinary and unusual. In the case of Bentley, it was not contested that the killing of another life, even in self-defense, caused Bentley’s post-traumatic stress disorder. What was not proved was the extraordinary and unusual element. It was the nature of his job to kill a bad guy, especially if in self-defense. His claim was denied and the court upheld that verdict. The Court did suggest that the South Carolina legislature take out the “extraordinary and unusual” element. A bill was submitted, but it has yet to be passed.
In Chester, South Carolina, if you suffer from stress at work, and even if that stress has caused some serious health issues, physical or mental, it is not generally compensable if the stress is a result of standard work place environment and relationships. There must either be an “extraordinary and unusual” element that contributed to the mental injury or the mental injury must have been induced by a physical injury that arose out of employment.
General Work Related Stress and Self-Help
If you suffer from stress at work, but it is not the result or a workplace physical injury or unusual treatment or incident that occurred at your place of employment, then you should take measures to deal with stress on your own. A lot of employers now also provide wellness programs that have in part reduction of stress as part of their goals. Known methods to reduce stress include but is not limited to the following:
- Aromatherapy. Some certain scents can help relieve stress by inducing calm through the senses.
- Yoga. Yoga is a science-proven method to reduce stress. Light yoga is all that is needed to start reducing stress.
- Journal writing. Write about what’s happening in your life. Through writing you may begin to understand why you are feeling the way you are and come to terms with a way to cope with it.
- Talk it out. Laugh it out. Cry it out. Talk to family, friends, or a counselor about what you are feeling.
- Meditation. Meditation keeps you in the present. Paying attention to your breathing help calm you. It is another science-proven means to stress reduction.
- Do something you enjoy. You should make time to focus on your own enjoyment. Find a hobby, volunteer, or something, so long as it is something you enjoy and can learn to relax because you are doing something you enjoy.
These are just a few methods to reduce work-related stress in your life. Each of us are different, so your method will be different. Experiment. But find something that works for you.
If you suffer from a mental injury that is a result of a workplace physical injury or from an extraordinary or unusual workplace occurrence or condition, then you may qualify for workers’ compensation. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney in Chester, South Carolina can help you learn about your legal rights for compensation and help you pursue the attainment thereof.
Contact the Elrod Pope Law Firm. We understand that workers’ compensation claims can be daunting and challenging. You don’t want to add to your stress by the complex and technical matters of filing a workers’ compensation claim for your injury. Let us do the hard work for you. Contact the Elrod Pope Law Firm for experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation legal advice and guidance with your claim.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.