Claiming Workers' Comp for Job-Related Stress

How to seek relief when workplace stress is significant in California

By Judy Malmon, J.D. | Last updated on January 29, 2023

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Stress is a part of life. For most people, our levels of worry and anxiety fluctuate from day to day based on a wide variety of factors. For some, work is a primary source of stress, typically related to deadlines, responsibility, time management and in-office relationships. But there may be circumstances when work becomes more than an ordinary source of mental stress—when it can actually cause a kind of harm for which an individual may be eligible for workers’ compensation. Under California labor laws, work stress may constitute a compensable psychiatric work-related injury if it can be demonstrated that employment events were the main cause of a documented, disabling mental health condition.

Requirements for a Claim Based on a Psychiatric Condition

California law establishes the base requirements for a successful claim of psychiatric job-related injury:
  • You must have a ”diagnosed medical/psychiatric condition” that causes a disability, or need for treatment. Stress in and of itself is not a condition.
  • You must show that it is “more likely than not that work events or circumstances were the predominant cause” of your diagnosed condition. That means at least 51 percent of the cause can be attributed to work.
  • You must have been working for your employer for at least six months.
  • When a claim is brought after termination, additional evidence is required to show that the injury occurred prior to termination.
  • The injury must not be caused by a good-faith, nondiscriminatory personnel action.
Bringing a workers’ comp claim based on a work-caused stress injury will depend heavily on the opinion and evidence from your doctor, including any medical treatment. This will require significant documentation regarding your medical, personal, familial and work histories, as well as evidence of your psychiatric background such as mental illness.

Related Claims

Depending on your circumstances, you may also be eligible for paid or unpaid medical leave, and for workers’ compensation benefits on other bases.
  • Family Medical Leave Act—Federal law provides that a qualifying employer (public employers or private employers with at least 50 employees) must allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year if you are unable to work due to a serious health condition. During this time, you’ll still receive any health insurance benefits from your job, and your employer must provide you the same (or comparable) position upon your return.
  • California Family Rights Act—California law provides paid leave to eligible employees needing time off for a serious health condition. When eligibility overlaps for state and federal leave overlaps, they will run concurrently. Your employer may not interfere or retaliate against you for taking medical leave, and may be sued under either the federal or state law for doing so.
  • Sexual or Racial Harassment—If your stress-related injury is based on sexual or racial harassment or discrimination occurring at your workplace, you may also be entitled to damages for violation of both state and federal discrimination laws.
If you are suffering from work-related stress that’s causing you serious harm, it’s important to take steps toward obtaining time off, as well as possible compensation. Seeking treatment for your condition is a good start, and talking to an experienced and reputable workers’ compensation lawyer will help assess your potential legal claims. If you’d like to know more about this area, read our workers’ compensation law overview or reach out to a workers’ compensation attorney or law firm to explore your injury claims in a free consultation.

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