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Workers’ Compensation: Proposed Senate Bill 284 Seeks To Expand Rebuttable Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Presumption

California Labor Code Sections 3212 through 3213.2 provide that certain injuries are presumed to arise out of and in the course of employment for most sworn law enforcement officers, firefighters and a select few other employees whose job duties involve public safety. The existing law provides that, in the case of certain state and local firefighting personnel and peace officers, the term “injury” includes various medical conditions that are developed or manifested during the period while the member is in the service of the department or unit and establishes a disputable presumption in this regard. The presumption is disputable and may be controverted by other evidence.

Firefighting and law enforcement are widely recognized as two of the most stressful occupations. Constant cumulative exposure to horrific high stakes events makes the members uniquely susceptible to the emotional and behavioral impacts of job-related stressors. Recognizing the severity of psychological injuries as a result of trauma, on October 1, 2019, Senate Bill 542 was approved adding Labor Code 3212.15 (to be repealed January 1, 2025) to include most active firefighting members of a fire department, whether volunteers, partly paid or fully paid, as well as peace officers as defined in Sections 830.1, 830.2, 830.32, 830.37, 830.5 and 830.55 of the Penal Code, who are primarily engaged in active law enforcement activities.

Labor Code 3212.15 provides that in the case of certain state and local firefighting personnel and peace officers, the term “injury” also includes Post-Traumatic Stress that develops and manifests itself during a period in which the injured person is in the service of the department or unit and applies to injuries arising on or after January 1, 2020. The member must have performed services for at least six (6) months unless the injury is caused by sudden and extraordinary employment conditions. This presumption shall be extended to a member following termination of service for a period of 3 calendar months for each full year of requisite service, but not to exceed 60 months in any circumstance, commencing with the last date actually worked in the specified capacity.

The concept behind this enactment stemmed from a strong belief that it is imperative for the society to recognize occupational injuries related to post-traumatic stress as severe, and to encourage peace officers, firefighters, and any other workers suffering from those occupational injuries to promptly seek diagnosis and treatment without stigma.

To expand upon this concept, the lawmakers, on June 2, 2021, approved Senate Bill 284, which is being amended and yet to be passed, to include the employees of The State Department of State Hospitals, The State Department of Developmental Services, The Military Department, The Department of Veteran Affairs, Public Safety Dispatchers, Public Safety Telecommunicators and Emergency Response Communication employees, to the existing industrial injury rebuttable presumption for a diagnosis of a PTSD. The argument supporting the inclusion of these employees is that the ones who work behind the scenes are also confronted with horrific and serious traumatic experiences but are not afforded the same protections against those hazards as the firefighters and law enforcement officers.

Employers and insurance companies have voiced a concern that extending coverage of presumptive injuries to specified mental health conditions would likely result in increased workers’ compensation costs. Increased costs will likely result from this legislation but ensuring and protecting the mental health of our public safety officers should be paramount. When these employees handle trauma on a regular basis throughout the course of their careers, this trauma and stress can sometimes lead to physical and emotional illness. Often, these issues are left unresolved because there is no place for these employees to go to seek help without a fear of losing his or her job. By adding these mental health issues to the term “injury” under workers’ compensation law, our great State of California is ensuring that its workers are being treated for these critical incident stresses related to their job duties.

The amendments to the Bill are still being submitted by various parties. It is anticipated that the final version is likely to be approved by the end of this year.

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