WORKPLACE VIOLENCE AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Workplace Violence is a serious concern in California.  Some of the most infamous workplace violence episodes have occurred in California.  This includes the San Ysidro McDonalds shootings, the Piper Tech shootings, and the San Bernardino terrorist shootings.

Not all workplace violence involves fatalities. There are many workplace violence events of a non-fatal variety.   These violence acts are significant in the workers’ compensation area because workers who are either injured in the incident or suffer emotional injury as a result of witnessing the events.  These effected workers are entitled to seek medical treatment and disability benefits through the workers’ compensation system.

There was a recent study of interest which provides insight to workers with respect to these incidents.

This article will discuss non-fatal workplace violence, how it interacts with the workers’ compensation system and the rights that an Injured Worker has relating to those incidents.

What Were the Non-Fatal Workplace Violence Studied?

In a recent study, non-fatal violence in the workplace was investigated.   In the study, the types of crime included rape/sexual assault (including attempted rape, sexual attack with serious/minor assault, sexual assault without injury, unwanted sexual contact without force, and verbal threat of rape/sexual assault); robbery (including attempted robbery); aggravated assault (attack or attempted attack with a weapon, regardless of whether or not an injury occurred, and attack without a weapon when serious injury resulted, and including aggravated assault with injury, attempted aggravated assault with weapon, and threatened assault with weapon); simple assault (attack without a weapon resulting in no or minor injury, and including simple assault with injury and assault without weapon without injury); and verbal threat of assault.” Siegel, M. Johnson, CY, Lawson CC, Ridenour M Hartley D. Nonfatal Violent Workplace Crime Characteristics and Rates by Occupation- United States, 2007-2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69: 324-328.

What Are the Frequency Rates of the Different Forms of Violence?

The most frequently reported type of crime was threat of assault (44%), followed by simple assault (37%), aggravated assault (13%), rape/sexual assault (3%), and robbery (3%). Siegel, M. Johnson, CY, Lawson CC, Ridenour M Hartley D. Nonfatal Violent Workplace Crime Characteristics and Rates by Occupation- United States, 2007-2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69: 324-328.

Note: workplace violence does not necessary translate into matters of physical harm to workers. Threats of assault can cause psychological injury or give rise to physiological stress responses such as a heart attack. Likewise, witnessing these various events might give rise to such problems as well.

Are the Violence Rates Different Between Occupations?

Yes. In the study, “[d]uring 2007–2010, occupations with the highest rates of violent workplace crimes were Protective services (e.g., first responders) (101 crimes per 1,000 workers); Community and social services (19); Healthcare practitioners and technicians (17), Healthcare support occupations (17); Education, training, and library occupations (eight); and Transportation and material moving occupations (seven.)” Siegel, M. Johnson, CY, Lawson CC, Ridenour M Hartley D. Nonfatal Violent Workplace Crime Characteristics and Rates by Occupation- United States, 2007-2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020; 69:324-328.

Note: It is interesting to note which areas of the workforce in which the acts occur.  It appears that the key factor is the significant contact that workers have with the public.

Are All Workplace Violence Episodes a Valid Work Injury?

No.  There are several issues that can come up.  First, there is the initial aggressor rule.  Second, if the alleged criminal has a relationship to the victim, there may be some issue of controversy as to whether it was a workplace event versus an event that happened at the workplace.  Legal analysis would be recommended in those circumstances.

Is there a Difference Physical Injuries versus Psychological Injuries?

Yes. Psychological Injuries have thresholds that must be met in order to prevail.

The Labor Code Section 3208.3 provides lower burdens for violent acts.  It is noted in the section that “in the case of employees whose injuries resulted from being a victim of a violent act or from direct exposure to a significant violent act, the employee shall be required to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that actual events of employment were a substantial cause of the injury.”  Further, ““substantial cause” means at least 35 to 40 percent of the causation from all sources combined.”

Further, there are other sections that may assist on a psychiatric claim.  They, however, require a factual analysis. Therefore, they may be relevant but will not be discussed within this article.

Additionally, for certain safety and law enforcement officers, there is a post-traumatic stress disorder presumption.  Click here for an article discussing it.

Are There Any Other Sources of Benefits?

Yes. The State of California has a Victims of Crime Program which can also provide benefits in some circumstances.  Click here for an article discussing it.

What if I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

 

NURSES IN THE WORKPLACE SUFFERING FROM STRESS: BULLYING IN THE WORKPLACE, PSYCHIATRIC INJURY AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Nursing is one of the most difficult and demanding professions in the world. It is also one of the most important.  Nurses confront life and death situations on a daily basis.

Nurses work with Doctors who are some of the brightest and most difficult individuals on the planet.  These Doctors have demanding schedules and responsibilities which impact on their ability to work with others.

Nurses work with other Nurses who are confronted with the same stressors and responsibilities.  At times, they can be in conflict with each other.

Nurses also work with patients who may have emotional issues that are either pre-existing or are relating to their medical problem at issue.   Also, they may have anger issues relating to their perceived mistreatment at the facility. Nurses also work with patient’s family members who are emotionally involved with the patient’s well- being. They too may be upset at their perceived mistreatment of their beloved family member.

Nurses finally work with medical institutions which have rules and regulations that they need to be in compliance with concerning their operations.

With respect to these numerous interactions, some of these interactions have been viewed as unacceptable and have been labeled as “bullying.”

“Nurse Bullying” has been subject o was subject to a study which found interesting results.  This article will discuss the nature of nurse bullying, how nurse bullying should be analyzed within a workers’ compensation setting, and what a nurse should do if they are subjected to stress.

Even If I am not a Nurse, Why Should I Be Concerned about Nurse Bullying?

“Workplace bullying has also been acknowledged as a threat to patient outcomes and the delivery of quality of patient care, as well as the erosion of personal health and professional wellbeing [91314]. Excellence in patient care flourishes in an environment built on open communication and respectful professional relationships. An environment that condones bullying perpetrates destruction of professional communication.”  Gaffney DA, Demarco RF, Hofmeyer A, Vessey JA, Budin WC. Making things right: nurses’ experiences with workplace bullying-a grounded theory. Nurs Res Pract. 2012;2012:243210. doi:10.1155/2012/243210

What Is Bullying in the Nursing Profession?

Individuals studying bullying characterized the situation as on in which there is a power imbalance.   These interactions can have serious effects on the organization. Yoo, S.Y.; Ahn, H.Y. Nurses’ Workplace Bullying Experiences, Responses, and Ways of Coping. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 7052.

Who Was Responsible for the Bullying?

In the study, there are many types of bullying offenders, including patients, caregivers, doctors, and nurses. Of these, bullying most frequently occurs among nurses and is particularly committed by a colleague rather than by a manager. Yoo, S.Y.; Ahn, H.Y. Nurses’ Workplace Bullying Experiences, Responses, and Ways of Coping. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 7052.

Note: for workers’ compensation purposes, the employment position of the offender is very important

Bullying has also been defined in other studies.

“Bullying goes by many names: workplace aggression, indirection aggression, social or relational aggression, horizontal (lateral) violence, and workplace violence. It has become so popularized in the press; bullying is often, mistakenly, used as an overarching concept. There is a tendency to use many of these terms interchangeably [8]. Bullying is different from horizontal violence in that a real or perceived power differential between the instigator and recipient must be present [15]. Some of the most recent literature suggests that all of these behaviors exist on a conceptual continuum of workplace victimization [3].” Gaffney DA, Demarco RF, Hofmeyer A, Vessey JA, Budin WC. Making things right: nurses’ experiences with workplace bullying-a grounded theory. Nurs Res Pract. 2012;2012:243210. doi:10.1155/2012/243210

Is Bullying the Same as Job Stress?

Those researching this have distinguished it from ordinary job stress.  It is something different from the day to day social stresses or poor management.

What Types of Bullying are Going on?

Bullying has been described in situations where the nurse is new to the area,  in situations where the nurse witnesses mistreatment of others, in situations in which they are singled out for public censure or humiliation, in situation in which there are constantly being interrupted, situations in which they are not in the social clique and they are subject to juvenile-like behavior, situations in which they feel they are being punished with disciplinary  action or threats,   Gaffney DA, Demarco RF, Hofmeyer A, Vessey JA, Budin WC. Making things right: nurses’ experiences with workplace bullying-a grounded theory. Nurs Res Pract. 2012;2012:243210. doi:10.1155/2012/243210

What are the Consequences of Bullying?

Nurses being subjected to bullying is a societal concern.  If this bullying impacts patient medical treatment, it must be addressed in those terms in addition to the health concerns of the Nurse effected.

It is reported that “[n]urses bullied at the workplace may complain of mental symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and fear, as well as physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, and palpitations. They are also more susceptible to burnout and turnover intention and have lower levels of organizational commitment and nursing productivity. Yoo, S.Y.; Ahn, H.Y. Nurses’ Workplace Bullying Experiences, Responses, and Ways of Coping. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 7052.

If a Nurse Is Having Medical Problems as a Result of Bullying, What Should They Do?

First, seek medical attention to treat your medical problems.  Second, seek assistance through your company’s Employee Assistance Program if one is available. Third, make a consultation with a lawyer as to whether there is some legal action that can be pursued.

There are two areas of law which should be explored.  Workers’ Compensation and Employment Law are two areas which should be analyzed with respect to the bullying.

If a Workers’ Compensation Claim is pursued, the Nurse can claim monetary compensation in the form of temporary disability benefits, permanent disability benefits, medical care, and vocational rehabilitation benefits.

What Are the Legal Barriers for Workers’ Compensation Psychiatric Claims?

With all psychiatric claims of work injury, a detailed factual analysis must be made.  With respect to bullying, there are issues of length of employment and whether the events causing the stress where personnel actions.  Bullying claims are viewed in the same light as all other psychiatric claims.

Labor Code Section 3208.3 provides the threshold requirements for psychiatric claims.

In general, an employee shall demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that actual events of employment were predominant as to all causes combined of the psychiatric injury.

Also, in general, there is also a six-month employment requirement.

Also, “[n]o compensation under this division shall be paid by an employer for a psychiatric injury if the injury was substantially caused by a lawful, nondiscriminatory, good faith personnel action.”

Note: Bullying can involve different players.   Some of them supervisors. Supervisors’ actions can be viewed as personnel action. Therefore, there may be “good faith personnel action” defenses that insurance Companies can be raise to defeat such a claim. Therefore, there is no guarantee that bullying cases will be accepted as a valid work injury claim.

What if I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

 

ALTERED MEDICAL STATES (AMS) AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: INJURED WORKERS, MENTAL STATUS, AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Altered Medical States (AMS) is a medical condition of import within the Workers’ Compensation System.  Irrespective of whether the Injured Worker’s AMS is work-related or not, the fact that an Injured Worker has such a condition which may impact their ability to communicate and their ability to understand is of concern.

Workers’ Compensation is a medical-legal system.   An Injured Workers with an altered medical state raise both medical and legal concerns.  The Workers’ Compensation System requires Injured Workers to provide truthful and accurate information.   The System also allows for Injured Workers to enter into binding contracts and agreements.   Therefore, an Injured Worker’s mental state is important.

This article will discuss Altered Medical States, how Altered Medical States can impact medical treatment and reporting,  and how Altered Medical States can impact Workers’ Compensation Litigation.

What is an Altered Medical State?

Altered Medical State can range from “total loss of consciousness to extreme excitation.” Evaluation and treatment of altered mental status patients in the emergency department: Life in the fast lane Hai-yu XiaoYu-xuan WangTeng-da XuHua-dong ZhuShu-bin GuoZhong Wang, and Xue-zhong Yu World J Emerg Med. 2012; 3(4): 270–277 doi: 10.5847/wjem.j.issn.1920-8642.2012.04.006 PMCID: PMC4129809 PMID: 25215076

Altered Medical States include central nervous system inhibition which can include coma, drowsiness, and confusion.   It can include central nervous system stimulation including irritability and aggressiveness. It can include “abnormal behavior.” Supra.

What Are the Medical Causes of Altered Medical States?

There are many reasons as to why someone may have an Altered Medical State.  Many of these AMS conditions can be work-related.  Medical Causes of AMS include both Neurological and Non-Neurological Causes.

AMS causes differ based upon based upon age. Top causes of AMS for elderly patients can include cerebrovascular disease, systemic or organic failure and infection.   Top causes for non-elderly are drugs and toxic factors, systemic and organic failure, and metabolic and endocrine disorders.  Supra.

Various causes of AMS can include drugs and substance intoxication, infection, metabolic endocrine abnormalities, trauma, cancer, and system/organ dysfunction.  This can include acute alcoholism. It can also be caused by trauma, i.e. head trauma, and infection. Supra.

What are the Workers’ Compensation Concerns with respect to Injured Workers with AMS?

With respect to the Workers’ Compensation Claim, an Injured Worker with an altered medical state can have problems with respect to the medical-legal reporting to support the claim of injury.   If the work injury caused an altered medical state, then there is a likelihood that the immediate medical treatment may not have an accurate history as to how the injury/medical condition was work-related.    For example, there are times when an Injured Workers are found unconscious and is then sent for medical treatment.   In those circumstances, the initial medical providers may not be able to document any information that can support the work injury.

Altered Medical States can also be when an Injured Worker is attending workers’ compensation related medical appointments.   Injured Workers may be taking prescription medications that impact their abilities to comprehend and answer questions posed by medical providers.   This again can impact the quality of the medical-legal reporting as to both the history of injury and ongoing complaints.

An individual may be so intoxicated that evaluations may be terminated.   This problem does not only relate to prescription medications.   Injured Workers may consume alcohol or take street drugs that may impact their mental state.

In sum, there can be work-related and non-work related AMS issues which impact medical treatment and medical-legal reporting.

Additionally, there are some Injured Workers that suffer from severe mental health issues where they have problems being communicative.   Further, these Injured Workers may have such problems where the evaluators have serious doubt as to whether they can provide accurate information.

What are the Legal Concerns of Altered Medical States?

The Workers’ Compensation System is a legal system and statements made by Injured Workers are placed under a legal microscope.   False Statements can lead to allegations of Workers’ Compensation Fraud.   Criminal penalties can apply.

Thus, there is a concern as to whether an Injured Worker with an altered medical state is capable to speaking the truth.   For example, if the Injured Worker is having hallucinations, there may be some question as to whether they know what they are doing and saying.  Additionally, an Injured Worker may be taking medications when they are having their deposition taken.   The medications may impact on their ability to understand and answer questions in a truthful fashion.

Thus, if an Injured Worker has AMS issues, it is important that AMS be documented.  It may be needed to address accusation so fraud.  Note: there are three times in which reporting may be required: medical examinations and evaluations, the Injured Worker’s deposition, and the Injured Worker’s trial.

What Should Be Done with Respect to Injured Workers with AMS? Temporary versus Permanent AMS?

If an Injured Worker has a permanent AMS state, the use of a Guardian Ad Litem is indicated.   In other words, a trusted person, i.e. parent or spouse, should be appointed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board to make decisions with respect to the case.

If the Injured Worker has a temporary AMS state, the parties should all take careful consideration that the Injured Worker is understanding what is going on and is making their decisions and statements in an unaltered state.   If there is some settlement, the fact that the individual is capable of entering into the agreement should be documented.

What If I Need Legal Advice?

If you would like a free consultation concerning any workers’ compensation case, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 28 years. Contact us today for more information.

HOSPICE WORKERS AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: STRESSFUL WORK ENVIRONMENTS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL WORK INJURIES: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Some Occupational or Work Environments that have unusual forms of stress.   Hospices and Hospice-related duties is one.  In a society with an increasing aging population, Hospice Workers perform the vital function of addressing the needs of terminally ill patients.  Working in such facilities or performing such duties can have an emotional impact on the worker.

There has been a number of articles which have discussed the emotional concerns of these workers.

There are multiple issues that relate to why Hospice Workers experience stress.

This article will discuss the nature of Hospice Work, why such employment is stressful, and what a Hospice Worker can do in the event that the work-related stress becomes disabling.

What is a Hospice? 

Hospices are health care facilities which provide care to those who are facing the end of their life.   They provide services to ensure that the patients’ physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are met during this period.

These facilities can involve multiple disciplines, can be face-paced, and can involve transitioning caseloads.

What Are The Difficulties When Working at a Hospice?

There are a number of difficulties with Hospices.  There is the difficulties of dealing with the emotional support needed for both families and the patients who are facing death. There is the difficulties with heavy caseload.  There is the administrative, agency and institution,  requirements in these facilities which can be a source of stress.

24-7 Care

“The hospice system provides 24-7 support and includes rapid response teams who cover nights and weekends. Even though other hospice workers have taken over providing care to that patient, the feeling of caring doesn’t stop.” Hospice Employees’ Perceptions of Their Work Environment: A Focus Group Perspective, Rebecca H. Lehto,  Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(17), 6147; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17176147 Received: 30 June 2020 / Revised: 13 August 2020 / Accepted: 17 August 2020 / Published: 24 August 2020.

Note: Graveyard and Rotating Shifts have been known to cause medical problems irrespective of the fact that it involves Hospice Work.

Heavy Caseload

“Caseloads are widely different by role due to the nature of the work, with social workers and chaplains carrying larger numbers of patients than nurses and aides. Despite these differences, many of the challenges reported were remarkably similar. Workload is intense; often there is not time for lunch (unless while driving) or even to use the bathroom. Hospice Employees’ Perceptions of Their Work Environment: A Focus Group Perspective, Rebecca H. Lehto,  Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(17), 6147; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17176147 Received: 30 June 2020 / Revised: 13 August 2020 / Accepted: 17 August 2020 / Published: 24 August 2020.

Note: Stress from heavy caseload should not be considered as a “good faith personnel action.”

Different Roles

“Different roles reported different challenges. Many of the hospice worker roles are salaried, officially paid and expect to work 40 h per week, but often ending up putting in additional hours without additional compensation. Managers are also salaried but have less expectation of “only” working 40 h. On the other hand, aides are paid overtime when they work more than 8 h, but are discouraged from doing so. These differences led to different pressures.”. Hospice Employees’ Perceptions of Their Work Environment: A Focus Group Perspective, Rebecca H. Lehto,  Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(17), 6147; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17176147 Received: 30 June 2020 / Revised: 13 August 2020 / Accepted: 17 August 2020 / Published: 24 August 2020.

Note: Some of these Role Issues may involve issues of “good faith personnel action” which may give rise to a defense to a workers’ compensation claim.

Communication

“Communication problems may also contribute to the chaotic nature of many workdays. Interdisciplinary teams, by definition, means different roles, responsibilities, and vocabularies, all caring for the same patients, usually in separate visits or calls. Such complexity can result in unanticipated communication problems as indicated by the following nurse’s example: Hospice Employees’ Perceptions of Their Work Environment: A Focus Group Perspective, Rebecca H. Lehto,  Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(17), 6147; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17176147 Received: 30 June 2020 / Revised: 13 August 2020 / Accepted: 17 August 2020 / Published: 24 August 2020.

Note: Some of these communication difficulties may involve issues of “good faith personnel action” which may give rise to a defense to a workers’ compensation claim.

What are the Consequences of The Difficulties of Working in a  Hospice Environment?

The consequences of such employment is Occupational Burnout as well as Secondary Traumatic Stress.

What is Occupational Burnout? 

“Job (occupational) burnout is defined as a prolonged response to job stressors, encompassing exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001); however, a more recent definition includes exhaustion and disengagement (Demerouti, Bakker, Vardakou, & Kantas, 2003; Demerouti, Mostert, & Bakker, 2010). Exhaustion, in this sense, refers to being drained of physical, cognitive and emotional energy as a result of exposure to job demands, while disengagement is interpreted as distancing oneself from work and possessing a negative attitude toward work-related objects and tasks. Job burnout is associated with depletion of energy and personal resources, which makes it an important factor in the process of health impairment (Basińska & Gruszczyńska, 2017). Burnout can cause the individual to be susceptible to other negative consequences of experienced stress, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or secondary traumatic stress.” Ogińska-Bulik, N., & Michalska, P. (2020). Psychological resilience and secondary traumatic stress in nurses working with terminally ill patients—The mediating role of job burnoutPsychological Services. Advance online publication. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ser0000421

What is Secondary Traumatic Stress?

Secondary Traumatic Stress “is characterized primarily by symptoms of intrusion (returning thoughts, dreams related to trauma), avoidance (an effort to get rid of emotions, thoughts associated with traumatic event) and hyperarousal (increased vigilance, anxiety, and impatience; Bride, Robinson, Yegidis, & Figley, 2004 Ogińska-Bulik, N., & Michalska, P. (2020). Psychological resilience and secondary traumatic stress in nurses working with terminally ill patients—The mediating role of job burnoutPsychological Services. Advance online publication. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ser0000421

What is Compassion Fatigue?

In one article, it noted that “It is important to mention that the consequence of secondary exposure to trauma at work is also called compassion fatigue (Figley, 2002), which indicates that STS bears some similarity to burnout syndrome, especially to emotional exhaustion. According to Figley (1995) STS appears as a complex state of dysfunction and exhaustion in which emotional distress and suffering experienced by trauma victims is taken on by the helpers.” Ogińska-Bulik, N., & Michalska, P. (2020). Psychological resilience and secondary traumatic stress in nurses working with terminally ill patients—The mediating role of job burnoutPsychological Services. Advance online publication. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ser0000421

What are the Problems for Hospice Workers?

From the studies, as noted above, it would appear that the stress is two-fold.   There is the stress from performing the job and there is the stress from dealing with the administration of the facilities.   Thus, both the work, and the work-setting can be injurious to the worker on an emotional level.

If a Hospice Worker is Having Emotional Problems, What Should They Do? What Are the Concerns?

First, they should seek medical assistance.   This can include utilizing an Employee Assistance Program if one is available. A workers’ compensation claim may be considered.   Before doing so, an analysis should be done with respect to whether the worker will meet the threshold requirements for proving up a claim.   Consultation with an attorney is recommended.   Some of the threshold issues may involve the length of employment, outside stressors, and whether there has been good faith non-discriminatory personnel action.

What If I Need Legal Advice?

If you would like a free consultation concerning any workers’ compensation case, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 28 years. Contact us today for more information.

 

POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD), OCCUPATIONAL CAUSES, & EMPLOYER ASSESSMENT AND REACTION: WORKERS’ COMPENSATION AND PTSD: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a Psychiatric Diagnosis that Injured Workers can receive as a result of exposure to workplace stress. In the California Workers’ Compensation System, both Insurance Companies and Employers are well aware of the serious consequences with PTSD injuries.   This includes the fact, Workers’ Compensation Laws include several Labor Code Sections that support Injured Workers making PTSD claims.

This article will discuss PTSD, workplace causes of PTSD, risk management approaches to PTSD, and Labor Code Sections that impact to PTSD claims.

What is PTSD?

“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger.” – National Institute of Mental Health

The Specific and Cumulative Nature of Stressors?

Workplace stressors causing PTSD vary temporally. They can occur in a specific manner such as a robbery.   They can occur in a cumulative fashion such an Employee being continually bullied in the workplace.

What Are the Causes of PTSD in the Workplace?

Workplace causes of PTSD can be broken into two categories. There is Workplace Stress and Traumatic Stressful Events.

What Workplace Stress can give rise to PTSD?

Workplaces stressors that can give rise to PTSD include supervisor relations, group morale and cohesion, administrative procedures, workload, shift duties, resources and internal personal conflict Post-traumatic stress disorder in occupational settings: anticipating and managing the risk Alexander C. McFarlane, Richard A. Bryant Occupational Medicine, Volume 57, Issue 6, September 2007, Pages 404–410, https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqm070

What Traumatic Stressful events can give rise to work-related PTSD?

Traumatic stressful events that can occur in the workplace include mass disasters, serious accidents, threats or death and injury, deaths of colleagues, witnessing deaths, suffering and injury and assault. Post-traumatic stress disorder in occupational settings: anticipating and managing the risk Post-traumatic stress disorder in occupational settings: anticipating and managing the risk Alexander C. McFarlane, Richard A. Bryant Occupational Medicine, Volume 57, Issue 6, September 2007, Pages 404–410, https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqm070

Why are Insurance Companies and Employers concerned about PTSD cases?

First, in the event of an obvious stressful event, i.e. a shooting in the workplace, Insurance Companies and Employers realize that the chances of having any legal defense to defeat such a claim is minimum. Therefore, their goal is to minimize the risk.

In other words, the most important goal for Employers and Insurance Companies is to minimize the expenses on the claim. Costs that can be minimized include medical treatment, temporary and permanent indemnity, future medical treatment, and vocational rehabilitation.

How is the Risk Managed in PTSD Cases?

It has been suggested that PTSD risk management should include screening, observation, and treatment. Post-traumatic stress disorder in occupational settings: anticipating and managing the risk Alexander C. McFarlane, Richard A. Bryant Occupational Medicine, Volume 57, Issue 6, September 2007, Pages 404–410, https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqm070

What is Screening?

As part of Risk Management, there will be an attempt to screen Workers who may be at risk for PTSD.  It is noted that “Screening for psychological disorders is an effective strategy in workers who are at significant risk because of their levels of trauma exposure. Such a strategy involves identifying individuals at risk and screening them in the immediate aftermath and again approximately 6 months later.”  Post-traumatic stress disorder in occupational settings: anticipating and managing the risk Alexander C. McFarlane, Richard A. Bryant Occupational Medicine, Volume 57, Issue 6, September 2007, Pages 404–410, https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqm070

Note: Screening presents problems. Are the individuals screening trained to do so?  Will the Employees react negatively towards this screening? Is it better that such screening be done by a medical provider provided through a workers’ compensation claim by some other means such as an EAP program?

What is Observation?

Risk Management suggest that Managers observe Workers who are at risk for PTSD.  They will be looking for things such as increased alcohol use, interpersonal and or family conflict, social withdrawal, depression, somatic distress and performance deterioration.  Supra.

Note:  Observation can be very problematic for Injured Workers.   Having suffered through a psychiatric disturbance is certainly enough for one person.   The notion that Management is tantamount to spying on the individual can add additional unnecessary paranoia and psychiatric symptomology to the already existing PTSD symptoms.

What is Treatment?

“The aim of effective treatment is to minimize these disabilities before they emerge.” Supra. Per Labor Code Section 4600, Injured Workers are entitled to treatment subject to a utilization review schedule and Independent Medical Review.

Note: Minimizing disabilities translates to lower costs on cases.  Effective treatment reduces the need for temporary disability, permanent disability, need for future care and need for vocational rehabilitation services. In the Workers’ Compensation System, however, Insurance Companies are slow to act and often deny both treatment and claim.

Why Are Post-Trauma Factors Important in Managing Risk?

As much as what happened to cause the PTSD, events that happen post injury can shape the course an Injured Worker’s claim.

“In the aftermath of the event, a range of factors can modify the recovery or escalate distress such as social support and stress that emerge in the aftermath of the event such as continued exposure to the distress of the victims or critical legal investigations of the circumstances of the event where blame is involved.” Post-traumatic stress disorder in occupational settings: anticipating and managing the risk Alexander C. McFarlane, Richard A. Bryant Occupational Medicine, Volume 57, Issue 6, September 2007, Pages 404–410, https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqm070

In sum, what happens in the workplace or elsewhere after the PTSD event can have a profound impact on the claim.  Therefore, Risk Management principles dictate that Management should continue to view the workplace as an ongoing site of injury. Post Injury events can push individuals who were functioning over the edge and create profound disability.

What Labor Code Sections specifically address PTSD issues?

There are two Labor Code Sections that I view as specifically related to PTSD.

The first is the PTSD Presumption which applies to certain law enforcement and safety offices.   This is Labor Code Section 3212.15. For more information concerning this Presumption, click here. 

The second is the Labor Code Section which lowers the causative burden for stress claims which involve violent acts.  Labor Code Section 3208.3(b)(2) which provides that “  in the case of employees whose injuries resulted from being a victim of a violent act or from direct exposure to a significant violent act, the employee shall be required to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that actual events of employment were a substantial cause of the injury”.[emphasis added]

Note: This was included due to the fact that those events described have a significant possibility of resulting in PTSD.   This section lowers the burden of causation from predominant cause (greater than 50 percent) to 35 to 40 percent for the Injured Worker.

What If I Need Legal Advice?

If you would like a free consultation concerning any workers’ compensation case, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 28 years. Contact us today for more information. Click Here.

 

 

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