When are work-related mental injuries compensable in Minnesota?

Minnesota workers may receive compensation for mental injuries that accompany physical injuries, physical injuries due to mental stress and PTSD.

When many people in Mound think about work-related injuries, they may imagine repetitive strains, acute injuries or exposure to hazardous substances. The risk of work-related mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder, is easier to overlook. However, these conditions afflict many workers. Fortunately, in Minnesota, workers may be able to seek workers' compensation benefits for these mental injuries and disorders.

The state's workers' compensation laws recognize three types of mental injuries: physical-mental, mental-physical and mental-mental injuries. Conditions that fall into all three categories may be compensable if they meet specific criteria.

Mixed mental and physical injuries

Many workers' compensation claims may involve physical injuries that give rise to mental injuries. For example, a worker might develop depression after suffering a debilitating physical injury, such as a spine or back injury. Some workers may also develop anxiety or PTSD after traumatic workplace accidents that result in sudden injury. These mental injuries may be compensable if the physical injury contributed substantially to the mental injury.

In these physical-mental claims, the physical injury that caused the mental injury must also qualify for compensation. In Minnesota, injuries must arise in the course of employment to be compensable. The nature of the victim's work also must have been a significant contributing factor to the injury. Workers are prohibited from receiving benefits for intentional injuries and injuries that occur when workers disregard explicit employer instructions.

Less commonly, workers may suffer from physical injuries, such as cardiovascular events, as a result of work-related mental stress. To receive compensation for these mental-physical injuries, workers must prove they faced abnormal levels of stress that exceed what an average worker faces. Workers also must provide medical evidence showing that the stress directly contributed to the physical injury.

Mental injuries or disorders

It is also possible for workers to develop purely mental injuries as a result of stressful working conditions or traumatic events. Generally, these injuries are not eligible for compensation. However, under an amendment to the Minnesota Workers' Compensation Act, workers who developed PTSD on or after Oct. 1, 2013, may be able to receive compensation.

To be considered compensable, PTSD must develop as a result of work-related activities. However, it cannot arise due to any of the following events:

  • Layoffs or terminations
  • Demotions or disciplinary actions
  • Performance evaluations
  • Retirement
  • Transfers or promotions

In short, workers cannot receive compensation for PTSD that results from good faith employer actions. Additionally, other mental injuries that arise without an accompanying physical injury are not compensable.

Seeking professional guidance

Determining whether a mental or psychological injury may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits can be difficult. Documenting the existence and origins of one of these injuries in a workers' compensation claim can also be challenging. As a result, employees who have suffered such injuries may benefit from speaking to a workers' compensation lawyer about the circumstances and the assistance that may be available.

Keywords: workers' compensation, stress, mental, physical, injury