Occupational stress is a type of psychological stress that a person develops when they are unable to cope with some aspect of the circumstances in their workplace. The stress can result in a variety of symptoms, including being unable to carry out their usual job responsibilities.
An employee might experience occupational stress when they feel that they no longer have any control over their work environment. Or, it might arise from such situations as the employee having to move to a noisier area in the office than the one in which they worked previously. Or they might be exposed to dangerous conditions. In addition, an employee may develop stress when they experience harassment in the workplace or other unhealthy working conditions.
Even a person who usually copes well in a high-demand and fast-paced job can develop the symptoms of stress as a result of the presence of new aggravating factors in the work environment. These symptoms are varied, and may include feeling unmotivated or even high blood pressure or changes in the worker’s diet that leads to weight gain or weight loss.
What Types of Injuries Result from Occupational Stress?
Everyone experiences stress on the job at some point in their lives. But not everyone develops the kind of adverse health effects that constitute occupational stress which affects their ability to work and can lead to a claim for damages.
The degree to which a person develops health conditions depends on their ability to tolerate and cope with stress. It will also depend on the type of conditions at work that are causing the stress. For example, stress can arise if a person has experienced exposure to toxic substances at work, such as mold or chemicals.
While many people think of stress as being strictly psychological or emotional, often referred to as “pain and suffering” in legal terminology, workers can show physical effects from occupational stress as well. For example, workers can develop physical conditions such as high blood pressure, joint pain, headaches, insomnia, as well as psychological symptoms such as anxiety or depression.
Can I File a Claim for Occupational Stress?
If a person suffers from mental or physical symptoms that can be attributed to workplace stress, the remedy is to file a claim for worker’s compensation. Occupational stress is a type of workplace injury that is addressed by the worker’s compensation system in each state.
It is important to keep in mind that claims for occupational stress are difficult to prosecute. Under worker’s compensation law, the worker claiming injury has the burden of proving that their stress is related to conditions in the workplace. The worker would have to produce the following:
- Objective evidence of stressful work conditions in their place of employment;
- Evidence to show that that the work conditions are unique to their workplace;
- Medical evidence to document that work conditions resulted in the worker’s injury or illness.
Employers and their worker’s compensation insurance companies often reject these types of claims, because they want to avoid paying damages and save money.
In addition to medical expenses, prescription medications and the cost of ongoing treatment, it is possible to recover monthly disability benefits payments through a state’s workers’ compensation system, if a person has been disabled, either temporarily or permanently, by their injury.
Experts warn that occupational stress claims for mental or emotional stress are reviewed more closely than other kinds of workers’ compensation claims, because the stress may not have visible, physical symptoms. Proving them relies solely on testimony from the employee.
If a person’s stress is due to unlawful harassment or discrimination, a person may have a claim under state or federal law, such as the federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or a state law, such as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in California. If a person is suffering treatment related to discrimination, then they would begin to seek redress by filing a claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC) or their state’s equivalent agency that deals with discrimination in the workplace.
If a person has been bullied in the workplace and experiences the symptoms of stress as a result, they should consult their employer’s bullying policy for guidance. The policy could lead to a solution. If a person is a member of a protected class and experiences harassment for that reason, then the bullying might be unlawful discrimination. Characteristics that can place a person in a protected class are such characteristics as age, race, disability, national origin, religion or gender.
It is important to be able to differentiate normal stress from the type of increased stress that would support a person’s claim for occupational stress. Also, any claim for occupational stress would have to involve only stress related to the person’s job and not related to other possible sources of stress in their lives, such as a divorce or catastrophic loss due to a natural disaster.
How Can I Increase My Chance of Recovery?
It is important for a person to document the facts leading up to their development of stress- related health conditions. For example, the person should record facts related to the following:
- Changes in their work condition, workload or work responsibilities;
- Changes in their health condition that did not exist before the stressful workplace situation arose;
- The impact of mental or physical injuries on the person’s ability to do their job.
What Will I Need to Establish to Succeed on My Claim for Damages?
The elements a person needs to establish to succeed with a workers’ compensation claim depends on the law in the state in which the person lives and the nature of their specific claim. However, the ability to show the following would probably be helpful in establishing a claim for occupational stress in most states:
- The person’s reaction to the injury-inducing stressor was reasonable;
- The stress was sufficient to create the injury the person sustained and it was the cause of the injury.
It is not necessary to prove that an employer was in any way at fault in order to succeed with a workers’ compensation claim. It is not necessary to establish that an employer was negligent or unresponsive to complaints. In every state, workers’ compensation is a benefit system that is “no fault.” This means that it is not necessary to show any negligence or carelessness on the part of the employer in causing the injury. The only significant issue is that a person was injured in the workplace or suffered an occupational disease in the course of their employment.
What Types of Damages for My Occupational Stress Can I Claim?
A person can claim a variety of damages depending on the worker’s compensation law in their state. But generally, in most states, a person can recover the cost of their medical treatment, including the costs of doctors, hospitals, medications, therapy, and the like, lost wages, future lost income, and the loss of their earning capacity, among other costs and expenses.
A person might also be able to recover the cost of future monitoring costs if their case involves an increased risk of developing a future disease. This type of damage is more common in toxic exposure cases, but might apply in an occupational stress case.
Generally, workers compensation may be less comprehensive than the damages that a person may be allowed in a civil lawsuit. Workers’ compensation benefits can be generous, depending on the state a person lives in. The State of Washington, for example, allows generous benefits to injured workers. Texas and California do not allow benefits that are as generous. Workers’ compensation benefits can also include death benefits, if the facts justify it and a worker was killed on the job.
Should I Consult a Lawyer About My Occupational Stress?
If you are suffering from the mental or physical effects of occupational stress, you may be entitled to make a claim under your state’s workers’ compensation system. A claim for occupational stress submitted to your state’s workers’ compensation system would require the expertise of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer. So, you want to consult a workers’ compensation lawyer to assess your situation and determine whether your claim is likely to succeed.