Connecticut’s workers’ compensation program has long covered work-related illnesses, such as those caused by exposure to asbestos. The principle that workers’ compensation should cover this kind of workplace illness is well established, but it is often less clear when workers’ compensation applies to work-related mental illnesses.

Now the state legislature is moving to make workers’ compensation apply to mental illness that is caused by workplace trauma. A new proposal would cover treatment costs for workers who have experienced the death or “maiming” of someone at their workplace. The latest move was prompted by first responders who said they felt traumatized by what they saw after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last December.

Supporters of the proposal say that it is necessary to help traumatized workers recover and return to work. They also say that adopting the proposal would be a strong signal that Connecticut views mental health as being as important as physical health.

Critics argue that the proposal is too vague, and that terms such as “maiming” are unclearly defined. They argue that without more specific standards of what constitutes a traumatic incident, the proposal will lead to more lawsuits in the future as employees and employers argue over what treatment should be covered by workers’ compensation.

Workers’ compensation is a kind of insurance system designed to compensate employees for work-related injuries and illnesses in set dollar amounts. An employee who collects workers’ compensation benefits is usually barred from filing suit against the employer over the same injury. However, when benefits are denied, or when they are insufficient to cover the costs associated with injury or illness, the employer may need to take some kind of legal action.

Source: Insurance Journal, “Connecticut Bill Applies Worker’s Comp to Mental Trauma,” March 2, 2013.