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First responders entitled to broader PTSD protections under Washington L&I law

Mental illness is one of the most pervasive disabilities in the workforce. But unlike physical disabilities that may be outwardly noticeable, mental afflictions often go unseen in the office and, at times, unrecognized before the eyes of the law.

A fairly recent change to Washington state law throws a lifeline to first responders whose chronic exposure to death, violence and grief over the years may have taken a toll on their mental health.

For decades, Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has rejected a broad category of post traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD) claims filed by first responders because existing industrial insurance laws only covered claims arising from a single traumatic incident. That left EMTs, policemen and firefighters–whose PTSD may not rear its ugly head until later in their careers–out in the cold.

With the passage of SB 6214 in June 2018, lawmakers made an exception for first responders by classifying this type of PTSD as an “occupational disease,” which has long been the legal basis for L&I claims involving physical ailments like cancer arising from chronic exposure to toxic chemicals on the job.

In other words, first responders who suffer from the effects of certain types of repeated, on-the-job stressors are entitled to the same benefits as workers who have contracted asthma or carpal tunnel syndrome in their workplace.

There are, of course, limitations in the application of the law. For example, a first responder can’t file a claim if their PTSD is “directly related to disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, layoff, demotion, or termination taken in good faith by an employer,” according to a synopsis of the bill.

However, the law is written with the employee in mind: the court assumes that workers filing a claim have an eligible type of PTSD. It is up to their employer chooses to prove otherwise.

Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us at if you have an L&I, workers’ comp, disability, discrimination, wrongful termination, injury, or employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

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