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Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Emotional Distress in Virginia?


Some work-related injuries can cause a lifetime of physical, mental, and emotional distress to employees and their loved ones.

Workers’ compensation may cover both physical and mental pain and suffering if it can be proven that this is job-related. However, emotional distress can be difficult to prove. Virginia workers compensation law generally doesn’t provide monetary compensation for mental pain and suffering, emotional distress, or psychological injuries. 

If you’re struggling with this, a workers’ compensation lawyer can provide you with invaluable advice on the topic. 

What Are Psychological Injuries?

When a worker suffers from a physical injury, it may also cause lasting emotional trauma. In certain cases, the worker may feel some worries and fears or emotional distress due to the incident. This may be even more aggravated if the worker expects to be out of work for an extended length of time or worries that they may not be able to pay their bills and support their family. 

Some of the common signs of psychological distress are the following:

  • Guilt
  • Inability to connect with other people
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Mood swings, anger, or irritability
  • Confusion or lack of focus
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

These signs may last for days, or even months, after the accident. Psychological injuries need to be treated right away so the worker can start feeling better. 

Can I Get Workers Compensation for Stress?

In general, mental stress does not entitle the worker to compensation under the current system. This is true even if the impairment has led the worker to lose time from work.

Under Virginia Workers’ Compensation law, injuries from an accident or a work-related disease are compensable, but mental stress is considered neither an accident or an occupational disease. The Workers’ Compensation board has claimed that problems at work related to management and other personnel are present in all types of employment. 

However, there are also exceptions to this rule, including:

  • If the worker can prove that intense stress is characteristic of their employment, as in the case of emergency dispatchers.
  • The stress originates from a single incident at work. An example would be a rescue worker who has developed post-traumatic stress disorder after exposure to a horrific accident.
  • The worker sustains an injury or develops a disease—that is compensable under the law—which aggravates or results in stress.

How Do I Prove My Stress Claim?

A worker who claims that they’re suffering from stress, anxiety, or other psychological injuries has the burden of proving that such injury was work-related, and not caused by an external source or is pre-existing. 

Some may be able to link a traumatic event to their current mental distress. For others, a direct connection may not exist. This is why it’s crucial for workers seeking compensation for work-related psychological injuries to work with mental health professionals who can help them establish a connection between their condition and their job.

To be compensable, psychological injuries must meet the following requirements: 

  • The conditions at the workplace are objectively stressful
  • There’s believable evidence that the worker found the conditions stressful
  • The stressful conditions must not be present in most other types of workplaces or roles
  • There’s objective evidence establishing and supporting the worker’s claim of psychological injury

Can I Sue My Employer for Stress and Anxiety?

In rare instances, employees have sued their employer for emotional distress or mental anguish if they experience stress and anxiety that is higher than the usual amount for their job. However, this can be difficult to prove in court. 

Find a Workers’ Comp Lawyer You Can Trust

You should work in a comfortable and safe environment. If your working conditions are causing unnecessary stress, trauma, and/or psychological injuries, get in touch with a qualified workers’ compensation lawyer at Slominski Law. 

We can help you assemble the necessary evidence and build a strong case that increases your odds of getting compensated.

Call us at (434) 384-9400 to reach our Lynchburg Office or at (540) 554-3762 for our Roanoke Office, or book a consultation online.