Last legislative session, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives introduced H.B. 2664, which sought to add a new subsection to the Workers’ Compensation Act addressing post-traumatic stress disorders in certain first responders. That Bill never made it out of committee, but that’s not the end of the story.
Last month, H.B. 432 was introduced. Like it’s unsuccessful predecessor, this Bill seeks to add a new provision to the Workers’ Compensation Act adding post-traumatic stress disorders to the list of occupational diseases that the Act enumerates for certain first responders.
This Bill reflects a trend among other states, to extend workers’ compensation benefits to police officers, fire fighters and emergency medical service providers, who experience post-traumatic stress injuries due to traumatic events arising in the course and scope of their employment, or due to the cumulative effect of psychological stress in the course and scope of their job duties.
In particular, H.B. 2664 would allow a presumption of compensability in two situations:
- Where a police officer, fire fighter or emergency medical services provider experiences post-traumatic stress disorder, following exposure to a traumatic event or incident while working; or
- Where a police officer, fire fighter or emergency medical services provider, with 4 or more years of service, develops a post-traumatic stress disorder related to the cumulative effect of psychological stress at work.
Significantly, H.B. 2664 would amend Section 301(g) of the Act to allow workers’ compensation coverage of police officers, firefighters and emergency service providers in purely “mental-mental” cases, so long as there is a “substantial evidence” establishing a causal connection between a post-traumatic stress diagnosis, and a work exposure. This is essentially a legislative elimination of the “abnormal working condition” standard, which had required proof of an event or incident highly unusual or abnormal, considering the type of work performed by the employee.
For example, under existing law, a police officer exposed to discovery of a rotting corpse might be ineligible for workers’ compensation, since this may not be an abnormal event for a busy city patrol officer (although it could be sufficient to establish a Heart & Lung Act claim for temporary benefits). Should H.B. 2665 be enacted, the same officer would likely have a strong case for coverage of a related PTSD diagnosis.
This proposed legislation will be of most interest to municipal and public sector clients but could potentially impact providers of emergency medical services (i.e. hospitals or physician practice groups), ambulance crews and possibly even private sector employers who provide medical services through trained safety response teams.
We will continue to monitor this proposed legislation and will keep you informed.