California Workers’ Compensation Defense: Understanding the “Sudden and Extraordinary” Exception to the Six-Month Employment Rule

The California Division of Workers’ Compensation is clear: An employee has the right to file for workers’ compensation benefits for a psychiatric injury. For the purposes of California workers’ compensation claim, the term ‘psychiatric injury’ is used broadly—it covers a wide range of mental health related issues, including depression, anxiety, and inability to sleep.

California Labor Code Section 3208.3(d) holds that no workers’ compensation benefits will be paid for a psychiatric injury unless the employee has been employed by that employer for at least six months.However, there is an exception for sudden and extraordinary incidents. Here, our Salinas workers’ compensation defense lawyers explain what you should know about the state’s exception. 

Most Psychiatric Injury Claims are Subject to the Six-Month Rule

California’s workers’ compensation regulations recognize that psychological stress can cause significant harm to an employee. A worker who deals with unusual psychological stress in the workplace and suffers a mental injury as a result can file for workers’ compensation benefits. That being said, state policy holds that an employee who just started at a new job generally cannot immediately obtain workers’ compensation benefits for a purely psychological injury. There is a six-month rule: The general standard holds that an employee must have worked somewhere for at least six months before they can seek psychiatric injury workers’ compensation benefits under Labor Code Section 3208.

Labor Code Section 3208.3(e)(1): A Sudden and Extraordinary Exception to the Six-Month Rule

Under California law (Labor Code Section 3208.3(e)(1)), an employee can file for workers’ compensation benefits for a psychological injury regardless of the duration of their employment if “sudden and extraordinary events of employment were the cause of the injury.” What constitutes a sudden and extraordinary incident for the purposes of California’s workers’ compensation law depends on several factors, including the specific circumstances of the case.

Notably, California courts have ruled that both factors must be satisfied. To use the exception to the six-month rule, the incident must first truly be “sudden”—meaning it generally has to be a single, discrete accident/event. Second, the incident must be extraordinary—meaning it must be unusual considering the nature of the job. A relatively common workplace accident, such as a fall on a wet floor, is unlikely to qualify as an extraordinary event. A workers’ compensation claim for a psychological injury filed before six months of employment could be defended on the ground that the triggering event was either 1) Not sudden, or 2) Not extraordinary.

Speak to an Experienced Central California Workers’ Compensation Defense Attorney

At Yrulegui & Roberts, our Salinas workers’ compensation attorneys have the professional skills and legal knowledge that you can count on. If you have any questions about California’s sudden and extraordinary exception, we can help. Contact our workers’ compensation defense lawyers today for your strictly confidential initial consultation. Our law firm provides work injury defense representation throughout the area, including in Monterey County, San Luis Obispo County, and Fresno County.