Imagine that a worker is fired, laid off, or otherwise terminated by your company. What happens if that former employee, then turns around and files for workers’ compensation benefits on the grounds that they sustained a “psychiatric injury”—post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, etc.—while working for your business or organization?

California law allows employers to defend these types of claims by raising a post-termination defense under Labor Code § 3208.3(e). Unless a narrow exception applies, an employer is not liable for this type of claim. Our California workers’ compensation defense lawyer highlights the key things to know about post-termination defenses in psych injury claims.

Defending a Post-Termination Psych Injury Claim: Know the Law

In California, a post-termination psychiatric injury claim is presumptively non-compensable. That is to say that employers can defend this type of workers’ compensation claim solely on the grounds that it was filed post-termination. The post-termination defense is sufficient unless an employee can prove that one of the following four exceptions applies:

  • The psychiatric injury was caused by a “sudden and extraordinary” event of employment;
  • The employer was notified about the injury prior to the employee’s termination;
  • There is clear evidence of a pre-termination psychiatric injury in the employee’s medical records; or
  • Psychiatric injury occurs, at least in part, due to sexual harassment or racial harassment, and there has been an official finding that such harassment occurred in the workplace.

A Post-Termination Psychiatric Injury Claim Requires a Well-Tailored Defense

Any psychiatric injury workers’ compensation claim filed by a former employee can and should be defended on post-termination grounds. An employer, insurer, or claims administrator should always be prepared to move to deny the claim due to its post-termination nature. However, the case will be more complicated if the claimant alleges that one of the four exceptions applies. Here is what to know about defending psychiatric injury claims based on statutory exceptions:

  • Sudden and Extraordinary: For the purposes of Labor Code § 3208, the term sudden and extraordinary has a narrow definition in California. It requires an injury well beyond the expected spectrum of risk at the position in question. 
  • Notice: An employer should carefully organize all relevant records. Was notice provided by the employee of a psychiatric injury before termination? The specific disclosures made by the claimant—both formal and informal—are relevant.
  • Medical Records: An employer, insurer, and/or claims administrator has a right to thoroughly evaluate pre-termination medical records to determine what treatment was or was not provided. Even if there is evidence of a psychiatric injury in the employee’s prior medical records, they still must prove a workplace cause.
  • Sexual/Racial Harassment: This exception only applies if an administrative body or a court has determined that workplace harassment occurred. The claimant still needs to prove an actual psychiatric injury based on the harassment.

Get Help From a Workers’ Compensation Defense Lawyer in California

At Yrulegui & Roberts, our California workers’ compensation defense attorneys are diligent, experienced, and effective advocates for claims administrators, insurers, and employers. If you have any questions about defending a post-termination psych injury claim, we can help. Contact our workers’ compensation defense team today for a strictly confidential consultation. With office locations in Sacramento, Bakersfield, and Fresno, our firm serves communities throughout the area.