While the Workers’ Compensation system is intended to provide coverage for workers who are injured, diseased, or disabled as a result of their employment, Ohio remains in the Dark Ages when it comes to protecting individuals who suffer psychological consequences from their employment.
Ohio Revised Code Section (ORC) 4123.54(A) provides in pertinent part that “every [emphasis supplied] employee, who is injured or who contracts an occupational disease” is entitled to the protections afforded under a Workers’ Compensation claim in Ohio – and that means medical coverage for the injury or disease and compensation payments when qualified. However, ORC 4123.01(C) defines an injury to be “any injury” but then goes on to deny coverage for “psychiatric conditions” except when the result of a physical injury or disease or the consequence of sexual conduct the worker was forced to engage in under threat of physical harm.
What that means is that if you suffer a physical injury and that, in turn, causes you to experience emotional symptoms, coverage can be had. Or if you are forced to perform a sexual act on the job under threat of violence, your psychological injuries will be covered.
But what about those individuals who have a reaction to extreme workplace stress? Why aren’t they entitled to coverage? We are living in a fast paced society. The demands on individuals in the workplace are increasing exponentially. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has an excellent publication on workplace stress that is well worth the read. Mandatory overtime, coworker harassment, increased production demands, sleep deprivation, floating and variable shifts – the list goes on and on. Here in Ohio, when a worker succumbs to these pressures and experiences the emotional consequences of stress – like depression, anxiety, or post traumatic stress – Ohio turns its back on them and denies them medical treatment and compensation benefits. In essence they are told that their workplace malady is somehow less worthy of care than for their counterparts who have experienced physical injuries.
And that is just plain wrong. Come on, Ohio! Get with it! This is 2010 and we know today that psychological injuries are just as real and oftentimes just as debilitating as physical injuries. No one I know credibly questions that any longer. It is time for Ohio to emerge from the Dark Ages and to join the ranks of the majority of other industrialized, fair-minded, and progressive states and to cover all psychological injuries that occur in the course of and arising out of employment. After all, that’s what Workers’ Compensation is all about.
Bill Takacs, President and Managing Partner