Mental Health & Workers’ Compensation

By Law Office of Justin S. Eppler, LLC

Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance system used by employers nationwide to provide medical coverage and wage-replacement benefits for workers who suffer injuries or contract illnesses while on the job. Being at no fault, neither employer nor employee can hold the other party legally responsible for the injuries or illnesses occurring at work. 

Though all 50 states have laws on their books regarding workers’ compensation, there is truly no one nationwide standard regarding benefit qualifications; benefits allowed and their caps; the processes for filing; injuries and illnesses included; and the appeals process. As it is with all these areas, states also differ when it comes to mental-only and psychological injuries. Twelve states offer absolutely no coverage for mental-only injuries. Eight states are on the other side of the spectrum, offering what could be considered liberal interpretations of mental illnesses and workers’ compensation benefits allowed.  

Alaska falls somewhere in between. The vast majority of states, Alaska included, fall into the middle, where mental-only injuries are covered in limited circumstances. Alaska law allows claims for mental-stress injuries only if they are “extraordinary and unusual.” However, if you suffer a physical injury at work that results in trauma leading to stress, anxiety, or other mental or psychological problems, that may also be covered under workers’ compensation laws. 

If you've suffered an injury at work in or around Anchorage, Alaska, and you’re facing mental or psychological issues as a result, contact the Law Office of Justin S. Eppler, LLC. Our workers’ compensation attorney will guide you through the process of filing a claim, so you can avoid some of the objections that your employer or workers’ compensation insurer may have regarding your claim. 

The Law Office of Justin S. Eppler, LLC also proudly serves clients in neighboring Fairbanks, Juneau, Wasilla, and Palmer, Alaska. 

Alaska Workers’ Compensation
Law on Mental-Only Injuries 

Alaska workers’ compensation law covers what is called psychological injury. This means that a workers’ compensation claim can be filed if it’s an injury that manifests itself mentally, emotionally, or physically, as opposed to the more common physical injury. However, it can be difficult to prove.  

The law states flatly that “mental injuries are generally not compensable under the Alaska Workers' Compensation Act” unless two considerations pertain: “the work stress was extraordinary and unusual in comparison to pressures or tensions experienced by individuals in comparable work environments,” and “work stress was the predominant cause of the mental injury.” 

In other words, the door is not entirely shut on mental-only workers’ compensation claims, but you must establish that the stress causing the mental injury was “extraordinary and unusual” compared to workers in similar situations elsewhere, and further, that the work stress was the causative factor. 

The section also notes, however, that “disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, layoff, demotion, termination, or other similar action taken in good faith by the employer” cannot be the cause of the stress or mental injury. 

The statute itself is completely silent regarding examples of what might be considered “extraordinary and unusual” work stress. Therefore, in making a claim for benefits for a mental or psychological injury, you and the attorney assisting you have to come up with a reason or reasons that separate your situation from employees in similar work situations. 

In other words, the door to benefits is not necessarily shut, but it will take some extra effort in justifying your claim to fully open the door to benefits for your mental or psychological injury. That’s why you need to seek out and rely on a workers’ compensation attorney who has the experience, knowledge, and resources to help you justify your claim and fight for your benefits. 

Physical Injury Leading to
Psychological or Mental Problems 

If the mental or psychological condition you’re facing is a result of a physical injury you sustained at work, then coverage for the non-physical component should follow naturally from the original claim. However, if you’re still claiming psychological problems months or years later, your insurer may question why your mental injury has continued long past your healing from your physical injury.  

Again, the key to convincing workers’ compensation insurers or administrators is to have solid medical documentation and evidence that you can submit, not only along with your original claim but also when questions arise later on about the need to continue your workers’ compensation benefits. 

How the Law Office of
Justin S. Eppler, LLC Can Help 

Most employers rely on private insurers for their workers’ compensation coverage, while some may use the Assigned Risk Pool or the State Insurance Fund for coverage.  

Regardless of where they obtain their coverage, however, your claim is going to be subject to scrutiny by the insurance adjusters or administrators assigned to your case, especially when it comes to a claim for mental or psychological injuries. You need to prepare a convincing package of documentation and medical evidence to submit with your claim. 

The Law Office of Scott S. Eppler, LLC, is experienced with the claims – and appeals – process of the Alaska workers’ compensation system. We can help you assemble a convincing package that will increase your chances of success on the first try. As soon as you suffer an injury or illness at work, contact us, and let’s get moving on putting together a potentially winning claims package.