Following the Newtown school tragedy, a number of emergency response workers and teachers were unable to return to work because of the emotional repercussions of what they witnessed at the scene. In response, the Connecticut Labor & Public Employees Committee introduced Senate Bill No. 823, “An Act Concerning Severe Mental or Emotional Impairment and Workers’ Compensation Coverage”. The legislation would amend the Connecticut workers’ compensation laws to allow for claims based on emotional trauma. The current law limits workers’ compensation claims to workers who suffer physical injury. If the physical injury also results in emotional pain and suffering, the claimant may also collect for these injuries. The amendment, if passed, will most likely restrict claims based on emotional trauma to employees who are exposed to death or maiming while at work.
The Connecticut Office of Legislative Research provides the following summary of the pending legislation:
“This bill makes an employee eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if:
1. the employee’s employment caused the employee to witness the death or maiming, or immediate aftermath of the death or maiming, of at least one person;
2. the death or maiming was caused by an intentional act of another person, and not a natural cause; and
3. a licensed and board certified mental health professional diagnoses the employee with a mental or emotional impairment and determines that the impairment originated from the employee witnessing the death or maiming, or its immediate aftermath.
Except for special circumstances related to police officers and firefighters, current law does not provide workers’ compensation benefits for mental or emotional impairments unless they stem from a work-related physical injury or occupational disease.
The bill also extends all workers’ compensation benefits to (1) police officers who suffer a mental or emotional impairment caused by using, or being subjected to, deadly force in the line of the duty and (2) firefighters diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by witnessing the death of another firefighter in the line of duty. Current law limits the benefits in these instances to treatment by a psychologist or psychiatrist approved by the Workers’ Compensation Commission.”
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is opposed to the bill largely because of the likely impact on municipal budgets. There is also concern that the changes would result in abuse of the workers’ compensation system by workers who witness trauma at work and file fraudulent emotional distress claims. The Insurance Association of Connecticut (IAC) is also opposing the legislation.