Psychiatric Injuries and the First Six Months of Employment in Safety and Law Enforcement

With respect to emotional injuries in the workplace, California Workers’ Compensation Law has many rules which are used to determine whether psychiatric injury claims are to be considered industrial or in other terms, “compensable”. One rule in particular impacts Safety and Law Enforcement Personnel. The particular rule is the called the “Six Month” rule.

As a result of the law, Psychiatric Claims of Injury during the first six months of employment can be difficult to prove for Safety and Law Enforcement Personnel. The fact that someone has actually suffered a Psychiatric Injury from stressful events at work is not the issue. Injury Law in California for Psychiatric Injuries limits an Injured Worker’s ability to claim a psychiatric injury within the first six months of employment. Therefore, one may legitimately be psychiatrically injured by events at work. Because of the law, however, the injury will not be considered compensable pursuant to Workers’ Compensation Law, and no compensation will be provided.

Labor Code Section 3208.3(d) provides that “no compensation shall be paid pursuant to this division for a psychiatric injury related to a claim against an employer unless the employee has been employed by that employer for at least six months. The six months of employment need not be continuous. This subdivision shall not apply if the psychiatric injury is caused by a sudden and extraordinary employment condition.”

The big problem with Safety and Law Enforcement positions is that inherently these jobs involve sudden and extraordinary conditions as a common daily occurrence. Shoot-outs, violent altercations, rescues from burning buildings or cars, and witnessing graphic accidents or crime scenes are all part and parcel of these occupations. Therefore, what would be a valid psychiatric injury for a civilian is not a valid psychiatric injury for a Safety or Law Enforcement Personnel.

Stressful events as described as above can emotionally impact individuals within the first six months of employment. As a result of these experiences, one might develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) PTSD has a variety of symptoms. Signs of PSTD can include flashbacks of the traumatic event which may be triggered by environmental stimuli. This can lead to heightened susceptibility to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. It can include cognitive decline, including problems with long-memory and short-term memory, nightmares and sleep disturbances.

In a case involving a Traffic Officer, Jackson, v. City of Los Angeles, (Panel Decision) 2010 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 480, the City of Los Angeles offered testimony from a supervisor which involved a traffic officer who was struck by a vehicle and claimed a psychiatric injury. He testified that “[a]fter he heard the explanation of the incident, he concluded that the applicant should have stepped aside and avoided being hit.” He further testified that believed this was a normal hazard of trying to ticket a vehicle. He was aware of three incidents like applicant’s, which had happened to people he supervised or friends of his. “These are the three that stick in his mind, but there are incidents almost every week that happen to traffic control officers.” He said that, in the last 30 days, two of his officers were involved in incidents. “One was verbally threatened and the other got his foot run over.” He further testified that he has been shot at twice, attacked by gang members once, and threatened with knives. He considered getting shot at to be “extraordinary.” “In his opinion, moving out of the way of a vehicle is an ordinary event.” As a result of such testimony, the psychiatric claim was defeated.

While the Jackson case did not involve a sworn officer, the legal arguments based upon the facts of that case are exactly the ones that would take place in a sworn or safety officer case.

There will be analysis done as to whether what happened, should the conditions be considered as “sudden and extraordinary.” It is important to note that both components “sudden” and “extraordinary” must be present. For example, as in the Jackson case, being run over by a car may be “sudden” but it was certainly not “extraordinary.”

Strategies

(1) Before filing a claim within the first six months of employment, you need to make a complete analysis as to whether you can defeat the “sudden and extraordinary condition” defense. Consultation with an attorney and legal research is strongly recommended. Considerations should be made with respect to whether a claim can be filed relating to other body parts not psyche related. For example, a cardiovascular or orthopedic injury can be pled. There is no six month requirement for these bodies parts to be compensable.

(2) If you can continue working past 6 months, you can file the claim after the six months have passed and you continue to actually work. Being on the books past six months but not physically working does not count. In those circumstances, where six months of actual employment has been exceeded, the Six Month Defense no longer applies. See Guzman vs. Select (Panel Decision) 2012 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 629. In the interim, while waiting out your six months, you could seek treatment through your health care provider or the Employee Assistance Program (EAP.)

You should feel free to contact an attorney to assist you on this matter.

With more than 23 years of expertise in defending workers’ rights, the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, A Professional Law Corporation, is here to assist. If you have any questions concerning your rights, please do not hesitate to contact our offices.  Please contact us today concerning if you need a Los Angeles workers’ compensation lawyer.