The question recently came to light in a newsworthy case involving two Microsoft employees. The employees sought workers’ comp for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) after serving on the company’s “Online Safety” team, where they were required to view horrific images and videos involving abuse, rape, murder and child pornography for purposes of removing the content and reporting it to law enforcement. Microsoft has challenged their claim on grounds that PTSD isn’t an occupational illness under these circumstances.

Unfortunately, workers’ comp claims involving mental illness – including PTSD – can be challenging. In Pennsylvania, it’s generally much easier to get benefits if your PTSD is connected to a physical job-related injury. However, in pure “mental injury” claims, when no underlying physical injury was involved, you may be facing an uphill battle.

Two types of situations that give rise to PTSD

Work-related PTSD generally arises in one of two ways. First, it can result from psychological stressors that come with the territory of the job – especially for those in challenging occupations such as:

  • Police officers
  • Firefighters
  • EMTs

Because being involved in traumatic events is essentially part of the job description, these workers typically can’t get benefits for PTSD unless it stems from an abnormal working condition. It’s up to the employee to demonstrate that the triggering event meets this tricky standard.

Second, PTSD can be tied to a one-time event that could happen in any workplace – for example, witnessing or being a victim of:

  • A workplace assault
  • A work accident, injury or death
  • An active shooter incident
  • An armed robbery

Because these incidents are generally out of the ordinary, workers suffering from PTSD in these situations may be more apt to get benefits.

Understanding your rights

If you are suffering from a work-related mental illness, it’s important to work with an attorney who understands this nuanced area of law. Doing so can mean the difference between getting the benefits you need and hitting a dead end.