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Traumatic event can trigger workers’ comp benefits

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in Compensation and Benefits,Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

Pennsylvania employers that don't adequately protect their employees from dangers associated with their jobs, take note. If your employees suffer post-traumatic stress disorder or depression following an armed robbery or other unusual violent act, they may be eligible for workers' compensation for the "psychic injury."

Traumatized employees must prove that one incident caused their trauma or that they were subjected to abnormal working conditions over a long period of time.

Whether conditions rise to "abnormal" depends on the type of job. Police officers and correctional facility employees will have a harder time establishing "abnormal" conditions than, for example, delivery drivers.

Case in point: Kevin Kennelty worked as a Schwan's Home Service route salesman, delivering frozen food to customers. Over the course of three years, Kennelty reported several attempted robberies. But the last straw came when he was robbed at gunpoint. He became depressed and anxious, and eventually he was hospitalized.

He didn't return to work, but he filed for workers' compensation benefits, which were denied on the basis that he hadn't been subjected to abnormal working conditions. Kennelty appealed and the Commonwealth Court sided with him, ordering the workers' comp payments.

It wrote that "this court is unprepared to accept that our society has deteriorated to the point where a holdup at gunpoint" is just another day on the job for a food delivery person. (Kennelty v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, No. 2357 C.D. 2005, Commonwealth Court, 2006)  

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