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Understanding work-related stress and workers’ compensation

The World Health Organization made news recently when it officially recognized work-related stress, or “burnout,” as an occupational phenomenon.

WHO recognition of this condition as a work hazard leads to the question: Do claims of work-related stress qualify for workers’ compensation benefits in Colorado?

Making the news

In the past, the World Health Organization defined workplace burnout as a “state of vital exhaustion,” but it has reclassified it as a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The organization emphasizes that this is a condition related directly to an occupation and not to matters in other areas of life. WHO plans to develop guidelines for mental wellbeing that employers can put in place for workers. The burnout revision will become part of the International Classification of Diseases by 2022.

Work-related stress and workers’ compensation

In the state of Colorado, “mental injuries” are eligible for workers’ compensation. Two examples are post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and general anxiety disorder. Some psychological cases are not easy to defend. Depending on the kind of stress a worker suffers, the condition may or may receive benefits approval. However, if the condition relates to a work-related illness or accident, it will often have a better chance for success regarding benefits approval.

What to expect

When a worker suffering from a work-related mental injury brings the matter to his or her employer, the employer must provide a list of approved doctors from which the employee can choose. The extent of the injury and the type and length of treatment determine what kind of compensation the worker receives. The employer’s insurer should pay the injured party’s medical expenses, at the very least. Colorado law also requires that the worker receive two-thirds of his or her weekly wage as part of the compensation package. Anyone who sustains a work-related mental injury, including what WHO now describes as burnout, should explore the legal options available to help determine eligibility for workers’ compensation under Colorado law.

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