While health care workers in New Jersey can incur a variety of job-related physical injuries, the mental toll health care workers face on the job is significant, especially since the pandemic.
Mental illness caused by job-related stressors can severely impact a health care worker’s quality of life and may stop them from being able to work altogether.
However, mental illness is not always recognized as a legitimate health condition. Does this mean that health care workers who must leave their jobs for a period due to mental illness cannot collect workers’ compensation benefits?
State law on workers’ compensation benefits and mental illness
Unfortunately for workers, not all mental illnesses qualify them for workers’ compensation benefits.
New Jersey workers’ compensation statutes state that, for workers’ compensation purposes, a compensable occupational disease is that which that is “peculiar” to a specific occupation or place of employment.
Case law has further limited the definition of occupational disease as it applies to mental illness. To qualify for workers’ compensation benefits based on a mental illness, the mental illness must have resulted from abnormal or inhumane work conditions or employer negligence rather than an already-existing, underlying condition.
Workers bear the burden of showing that a work-related event caused their mental illness. Reasonable stress or anxiety that is normally incurred as part of the job may not be enough to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers’ compensation for mental illness
Having a mental illness alone is generally not enough to qualify health care workers for workers’ compensation benefits unless the illness arises out of extraordinary work conditions, an abnormal, specific event or employer negligence.
This means it can be difficult for workers who incurred a mental illness on the job to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. Still, it is not impossible, and workers should not immediately give up on their right to seek workers’ compensation benefits just because their illness is mental rather than physical in nature.