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Lawmakers Mull Expanding Workers’ Comp to Cover Mental ‘Impairment’

by | Feb 16, 2015 11:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share

Hugh McQuaid File Photo Two bills under consideration this legislative session seek to expand the state’s workers’ compensation law to cover those who suffer severe mental or emotional distress after witnessing extreme workplace violence.

One bill, SB 593, has been introduced by the Labor and Public Employees Committee. It would expand coverage under the Workers’ Compensation Act to those who have certain “mental or emotional impairments” due to witnessing the death or maiming of another person in the workplace.

Similar legislation has failed in previous years.

In the past, workers’ compensation claims could be filed by those who suffered emotional or mental distress even if they sustained no accompanying physical injury. But in 1993, amid cost concerns, the law was changed so that those with emotional or mental trauma could not file a claim unless they also were physically injured.

Lawmakers on the Labor and Public Employees Committee introduced the bill this year because they have “learned over the years” that experiencing something traumatic can have a lasting effect on workers, said committee co-Chairman Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven.

The current law “does not reflect the reality” that many workers experience, according to Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven. “It is very possible to have severe, traumatic mental health issues that are not necessarily accompanied by a physical injury.”

The law as it stands now “just seems to be unfair, just doesn’t seem to recognize the reality of the significant disabilities that can occur,” he said.

Looney was among those who testified in support of the bill at a Jan. 29 public hearing.

Andrew Matthews, president of the Connecticut State Police Union, also spoke in support of the bill, noting the trauma many police officers face on the job. Ted Scholl Jr., legislative representative for the Connecticut State Firefighters Association, testified in favor of the bill as well.

Others opposed the measure. David Lowell, president of the Association of Ambulance Providers, said the group has “significant concerns” about the burden the bill would put on the ambulance industry.

“Ambulance providers pay some of the highest workers’ compensation rates due to the nature of the employment,” Lowell testified. “This bill would cause an increasing hardship on all providers at a time when Medicaid and Medicare rates have been cut.”

The bill stipulates that workers’ compensation coverage would apply to any worker who a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist diagnoses as suffering from extreme distress. The distress must be caused by witnessing the death or maiming of one or more people or witnessing the immediate aftermath, in some capacity connected to the worker’s employment.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities opposes the bill, according to Bob Labanara, the group’s state relations manager.

Cities and towns know how important it is to help municipal employees who suffer emotional distress from their jobs, and there already are measures in place to do so, he said. The bill, however, is too ambiguous.

Words like “aftermath,” “impairment” and “maiming” have not been clearly defined, Labanara said, which would make it impractical to enforce. City and town leaders also worry about additional costs they would incur at a time when municipal budgets are already tight, he said.

Several groups that submitted testimony at the public hearing — including the Connecticut Psychiatric Society, the Connecticut Education Association and the Connecticut AFL-CIO — support the measure but said workers’ compensation coverage should be expanded even further.

Workers can be traumatized if they witness a violent act, even if no one is killed or maimed as a result, the Connecticut Psychiatric Society said in its testimony. The AFL-CIO also said in testimony the bill is a good step but “falls short.”

Winfield acknowledged that lawmakers will have to wrestle with how best to implement any law expanding workers’ compensation coverage, but said it is an important undertaking.

Looney also has introduced a related bill, S.B. 105. His bill focuses on a specific section of the Workers’ Compensation Act and seeks to expand the legal definition of “personal injury” so that it would include certain events in which a person suffers mentally or emotionally after seeing someone killed or maimed by another person on the job.

Looney said he is optimistic about the potential to expand workers’ compensation coverage this session.

“There is growing interest and support for it,” he said.

Both bills to expand coverage are being spearheaded by Democratic lawmakers, who hold a majority in both the House and Senate.

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(8) Archived Comments

posted by: Jim in Mfg | February 16, 2015  3:43pm

This sounds like a reasonable change but given the employees perchance to claim injuries that can’t be verified, (i.e. soft tissue injuries) it would be looney to open the barn door to even more, difficult to determine, issues.  Please don’t go the way of the LIRR:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/22/nyregion/flaws-persist-in-lirrs-disability-claims-a-report-finds.html?_r=0

posted by: Tolland Tired | February 16, 2015  5:18pm

Last in the nation for job creation because of laws like this!!!

posted by: lkulmann | February 16, 2015  10:46pm

The best way to explain mental healthcare as it relates to physical injury is this;
Bullying and retaliation seem to be bigger problems lately. If that is not addressed early on, the stress becomes chronic. Our bodies eventually have physical responses to stress. Some examples might be headaches, acid indigestion, anxiety…If left alone and STILL not treated it can manifest into more serious issues like ulcers, migraines, depression….etc Like it or not…its all connected, body mind and soul. I think the junkies, drug addicts substance abusers are victims of emotional trauma with physical symptoms who are self-medicating. They slipped through the cracks, sadly.

posted by: justsayin | February 17, 2015  8:47am

This is another overreach by the legislature. Some of the jobs listed already qualify for “hazard” pay and retirement. Why are we doubling down on a cost driver? This is way too easy to exploit and will drive more business away.

posted by: dano860 | February 17, 2015  9:27am

Excellent points with regards to abuse at the LIRR and that these types of ailments are nearly impossible to diagnose. These are the types of mandates put upon employers that tell them they aren’t welcome in this State.
Within the past few months manufacturing trade publications and blogs have reported that business’s are bringing aerospace work back to the U.S. The problem is that they aren’t coming back to Connecticut.
Why are they coming back? Costs, labor costs have gone up in Japan, Korea India and even China. Costs of permitting and taxes in those countries have figured into the equation too. Of course shipping isn’t cheap either.
Letting the legislature place all the blame and expense of peoples problems onto the employer is just wrong. This is no way to treat our business community.

posted by: SocialButterfly | February 17, 2015  4:14pm

Another ploy for lawyer’s to
make more money. It’s a lawyer benefit bill that the
Democratic majority in the General Assembly will pass.

posted by: Fisherman | February 17, 2015  10:03pm

... This could DRAIN the whole damn Worker’s Comp System; what with having to cover all the Democrats who voted to re-elected Malloy a few months ago…

posted by: SocialButterfly | February 18, 2015  10:15am

@Fisherman: Unfortunately the big Democratic Gov. Malloy mistake is in office making more fiscal errors in judgement that are burying our state with the help of his Democratic controlled General Assembly. It’s not over until it’s over for Malloyism, “and then we will be forced to pick up the pieces.”  Unfortunately we appear to lead an over-abundant careless national
voting plurality that appears to be growing daily. Our voters will continue to bury this state and country to economic doom.

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