Psychological Injury

Fighting for your emotional injury and distress caused on the job

Occupational Injury


Speak to a representative at California Work Injury Law Center.

According to the Perelman School of Medicine, psychological trauma is caused by an adverse experience or series of experiences, that result in an injury that changes the way the brain functions, impairing neuropsychological, psychological, and cognitive functioning. A significant percentage of individuals will develop Traumatic Stress symptoms and PTSD including these common symptoms:

  • Sleep disturbance and nightmares
  • Irritability, anger, and oppositional behavior
  • Intrusive memories and thoughts
  • Withdrawal and avoidance of people, places, and things
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Hypervigilance
  • Physical symptoms: racing heart, headaches, stomach aches

Psychiatric Injuries at Work & Compensation Claims

California’s law permits compensation for a wide range of disabilities resulting from job-related mental stress. Psychological stress may produce mental disorders, physical disorders, or both. 

Recent changes in the law have tightened eligibility and created a higher threshold of evidence in proving cases of mental stress-related disability. 

For instance, psychiatric stress injuries caused by normal personnel actions are no longer compensable. Typically, a worker must have been employed for at least 6 months to claim cumulative mental stress injuries.

What is a Psychological Injury?

A psychological injury is when the person has suffered mental trauma as a result of an accident, sudden shock, or a traumatic event. Examples of psychiatric injuries are Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Adjustment Disorder, and depression.

Symptoms of a psychological injury caused by an accident or a traumatic event include:

  • Nightmares or flashbacks of the incident
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Agoraphobia
  • Hypervigilance
  • Suicidal thoughts

How to Prove a Psychological Injury

Pursuant to Labor Code 3208.3, (a) A psychiatric injury shall be compensable if it is a mental disorder that causes disability or needs for medical treatment…


it is diagnosed using the terminology and criteria of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition-Revised, or the terminology and diagnostic criteria of other psychiatric diagnostic manuals generally approved and accepted nationally by practitioners in the field of psychiatric medicine.

Pursuant to Labor Code 3208.3 (b)(1), in order to establish that a psychiatric injury is compensable, an employee shall demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that actual events of employment were predominant as to all causes combined of the psychiatric injury.

What do you have to do to prove an emotional injury?

You must meet all the following requirements in order to receive benefits for a psychiatric injury:

  • You must have a “mental disorder” that’s been diagnosed under accepted procedures.
  • As a result of your mental disorder, you must have required medical treatment or experienced disability (meaning that you had to miss work or couldn’t do some of your work tasks).
  • You must have worked for your employer for at least six months (not necessarily continuous), unless your psychiatric injury resulted from a sudden, extraordinary condition at work.
  • You must prove that “actual events of employment” were the “predominant” cause of your psychiatric injury—meaning that when all the causes are taken into account, working conditions were at least 51% responsible. (The standard is lower—35% to 40%—if you were a victim of violence at work or you were directly exposed to a “significant violent act.”)

Documentation to keep when trying to prove an injury.

What Can Employers Do When an Employee Claims Psychological Injuries? 

Employers and insurance companies routinely deny workers’ comp claims for psychological conditions like depression and anxiety. California workers’ comp system treats psychiatric injuries differently than physical injuries. There are a couple of rationales behind this. First, psychological injuries are based on employees’ internal experiences (that is, their thoughts and feelings). There aren’t good objective tests to detect and measure those experiences, like blood tests or x-rays that reveal physical injuries or illnesses. So when employees say they’ve suffered a psychiatric injury, it’s hard for doctors to verify their claims. Second, psychological conditions can have many causes, including a variety of personal reasons that have nothing to do with work. Thus, it is important to retain effective representation to aggressively litigate psychiatric claims.

When to Hire an Attorney to Handle Your Psychological injury Case

It is advisable to obtain an attorney to handle your psychiatric claim if you have psychological trauma and have filed a claim with your employer. Because psychiatric injuries are subject to complex workers’ compensation laws, you should consult with a lawyer about your claim. Workers who suffer from mental or emotional injuries often face uphill battles against skeptical insurance companies who are ready to deny these types of claims. 

Your claim could be denied if:

  • your employer proves that a good-faith, nondiscriminatory personnel action (such as legitimate criticism of your work performance or the denial of a promotion) was largely responsible (at least 35% to 40%) for your psychiatric injury
  • you filed your claim after receiving notice that you were being laid off or fired, unless your injuries were the result of sudden and extraordinary workplace events or you qualify for one of the other limited exceptions.

Are psychological injury cases treated the same as physical injury cases under the law?

If you suffered a psychiatric injury as a result of a physical work-related injury rather than job stress, you’ll generally have an easier time proving that your mental or emotional condition is work-related. For example, suppose you suffer a serious back injury at work and become depressed after months of being laid up in bed, in considerable pain. Because depression commonly occurs in people dealing with chronic pain and disability, it will be easier to link the mental condition to the work-related incident.

These types of injuries are also called “compensable consequence” injuries because the psychiatric injury is the consequence of the physical injury. Other types of possible compensable consequence injuries include anxiety, sleep disorders, and sexual dysfunction resulting from a physical injury.

As with other types of work-related psychiatric injuries, you may be entitled to medical treatment and temporary disability benefits. However, you won’t be able to receive any permanent disability benefits for psychiatric injuries that are a compensable consequence of a physical injury unless:

  • you were the victim of a violent act at work or were exposed to significant work-related violence
  • your original physical injury was catastrophic (such as severe head injury or burns), or
  • your injury happened before 2013.