Stressed mature business woman looking worried

Can you get workers comp for anxiety and stress?

When we think of injuries covered by workers’ compensation, we often think first of physical injuries suffered in the workplace, such as injuries from falls, overexertion, or cumulative trauma caused by repetitive motions.

But South Carolina workers’ compensation benefits also may be available to employed workers who suffer from mental health injuries, such as debilitating anxiety and stress. To qualify, the injured worker must show that the anxiety or stress is caused by “extraordinary and unusual” conditions of their job or that the condition is a side effect of a physical injury suffered on the job.

These are stricter eligibility standards than in some states, and they may be used by insurers to try to deny benefits to workers who have valid claims. If you are suffering from job-related anxiety or stress that keeps you out of work, you should consult our experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorneys at Joye Law Firm. We can assess your workers’ comp claim. If we believe you should be entitled to benefits under South Carolina workers’ compensation law, we’ll fight for you to receive the benefits you deserve.

S.C. Workers’ Comp Requires ‘Extraordinary’ Cause of Stress or Anxiety

Workers’ compensation is no-fault insurance coverage provided by businesses to most employees in South Carolina. It pays all medical expenses and a portion of lost wages to a worker who has been injured on the job or due to circumstances arising out of job duties and who, because of the injury, cannot return to work within a week.

Generally speaking, no one questions paying workers’ comp benefits to a worker who suffered a broken leg in a fall on the job site. But mental health injuries are invisible and therefore more easily challenged.

Just about anyone in the workforce feels anxiety and stress over some aspect of their job at some point. For many who work under tight performance standards or deadlines, stress is a constant issue. This is different than the kind of debilitating anxiety and stress that rises to the level of someone being unable to work.

To qualify for workers’ compensation due to anxiety or stress, the bar is high – very high. First, you would need a doctor’s diagnosis that you are disabled by a mental illness, such as by one of the five major anxiety disorders, which include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Second, in South Carolina, you must prove your disabling stress or anxiety was caused by extraordinary and abnormal working conditions that are not a normal part of your job. This rule stems from a case known as Brandon Bentley v. Spartanburg County, and S.C. Association of Counties SIF. In it, the S.C. Supreme Court denied workers’ comp benefits for a sheriff’s deputy after he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression following a shooting.

The Court agreed with the state workers’ compensation commissioner who had previously ruled that the shooting was a standard and necessary condition of a deputy sheriff’s job. Therefore, the deputy’s mental injury was not due to anything unusual arising out of his employment. According to one report, the workers’ comp commissioner “noted that deputies received training on the use of deadly force and that the deputy admitted that he knew he would sometimes be required to use deadly force in the course and scope of his employment.”

The Court stated in this 2012 opinion that it was “constrained to decide this case according to the standard mandated by the General Assembly” and suggested that “this standard should be updated to account for the scientific and technological progress in medicine and psychology, which have undermined the old public policy argument used to deny” benefits for mental illness caused by mental trauma. Though such legislation has been introduced to make it easier for first responders to receive benefits for a mental injury, none has passed.

Further, workers’ compensation law (SC Code § 42-1-160 (C)) specifically recognizes several situations incidental to normal employer/employee relations that might cause anxiety or stress but would generally not qualify an employee for benefits.

Situations that might cause anxiety or stress but do not qualify an employee for benefits.

  • Performance appraisals or salary reviews
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Demotions or promotions
  • Transfers
  • Job termination.

Contact Joye Law FirmTo obtain workers’ comp, you would have to be able to show that the job conditions that caused your stress or anxiety were extraordinary and unusual in comparison to normal work conditions. This might include any number of scenarios, such as being subjected to an armed robbery as a convenience store clerk or another act of violence in an office setting, or a major incident that threatened your physical well-being.

The third requirement of a claim would be to present medical evidence that your ongoing anxiety or stress is a result of extraordinarily stressful employment conditions.

Alternatively, if you develop a psychiatric injury after a physical injury (many workers experience depression once it becomes clear that they will not be able to return to their former employment due to their injuries), you may be entitled to benefits for the same.

Stress or anxiety that is caused by a work-related physical injury may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits if:

  • The employer or insurance carrier agrees, or
  • A physician’s statement attests to the relationship between the two, or
  • A psychologist or psychiatrist finds a causal relationship or connection.

We Can Help You File for Workers’ Compensation Benefits

While the bar is very high for workers to collect benefits for a disabling psychiatric injury, it’s not impossible. We understand that such extraordinary events sometimes occur, and that anxiety and stress are real and can be debilitating. In fact, we’ve helped many clients receive workers’ compensation for mental injuries after a trauma at work.

We can’t promise results, but the attorneys at Joye Law Firm can help you seek all the workers’ compensation benefits available to you by law after a workplace incident that has left you or your loved one incapable of returning to work due to anxiety and stress.

Our firm can help you file for workers’ compensation or appeal an unsatisfactory decision about your claim. If needed, we can refer you to medical professionals for a second-opinion diagnosis. The second opinion may supplement the information in your medical file and strengthen your case when presented to the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Joye Law Firm can help you make sure your diagnosed anxiety or stress disorder is properly documented and that all paperwork is completed and filed on time. We can help ensure that all medical treatment you have received is documented, so that those costs may be fully reimbursed in your workers’ compensation settlement.

One of the biggest problems that injured workers run into when trying to handle their own claim is navigating the bureaucracy.  Incomplete or incorrect paperwork, missing deadlines, and failing to get proper medical documentation can all kill a workers’ claim. If you’re looking for a DYI tip on handling your own mental stress and anxiety claim, here’s one – don’t! You’ve been through enough. Let a professional workers’ compensation attorney take it from here.

Let Our Workers’ Comp Lawyers Help With Your Anxiety or Stress Claim

If you or a loved one suffers from disabling anxiety or stress caused by a traumatic event related to employment or a catastrophic workplace injury, you may have a valid claim for South Carolina workers’ compensation benefits. Employers often challenge mental illness claims, and ill workers can have a tough time fighting for justice in a system that is complex and unfamiliar to them.

Our attorneys know the South Carolina workers’ compensation system. Joye Law Firm has fought for injured workers in South Carolina since 1968. Call a Joye Law Firm workers’ comp attorney at 877-941-2615 or fill out our online contact form for a free consultation about developing a strong workers’ comp claim.

About the Author

Ken Harrell joined Joye Law Firm in 1994, and has been the managing partner since 2006. With 30 years of experience, he protects the rights of injured South Carolinians, including cases involving workers’ compensation, car accidents, and defective products. Ken also leads the firm’s referral practice, helping to ensure that our clients receive the best possible representation. He is a past president of South Carolina Injured Workers’ Advocates, and has served as the co-chairman of this organization’s legislative affairs committee for 12 years.

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