Mental Stress and Anxiety and Virginia Workers' Compensation Law

by Jerry Lutkenhaus on Apr. 10, 2014

Employment Workers' Compensation 

Summary: Mental Stress on the job is a serious problem. In Virginia it is very difficult to get compensation for this.

In my 30 years of practice as a Virginia Workers' Compensation Lawyer, I have had many claimants contact me and say my work or my supervisor is causing me mental stress. Many times these claimants have gone to a psychiatrist or a psychologist for treatment. Often, the impairment has become so severe they have been taken out of work. They want to know can they be compensated for their lost time through the Virginia Workers' Compensation system. They say (1) my stress happened at work and (2) my doctors say I have lost time and incurred medical bills due to this stress. They say why cannot I be compensated under the workers' compensation law?

The short answer is "NO" as a general rule mental stress is not compensable. Gradual infliction of mental stress by your work or by your supervisor is not an "accident" or a "disease" under the Virginia Workers' Compensation law. As defined by the Workers' Compensation Commission, an "accident" to be compensable must occur at a specific time and thus gradually occurring mental stress cannot qualify as an accident. It is also not an occupational disease unless it can be shown that mental stress is "characteristic" of only that employment which is normally an impossible burden. The Commission has said in the past problems associated with personnel and management are inherent in all employment.

The first exception to the above rule is if the claimant's work is in a particularly high stress occupation it is possible for a claimant to show his or her "mental stress" is characteristic of the employment. For example, the Commission has found an emergency dispatcher was employed in an occupation where stress was characteristic of the employment.

The second exception to this rule is if the claimant has a compensable "accident" or "disease" that aggravates or causes mental stress or depression then the aggravation may be compensable. The typical example of this is the worker who has a severe injury which results in chronic pain. The pain causes depression. In that instance, the depression will compensable. Of course, the treating physician must make the connection between the accident and the stress.

A third exception to the general rule that mental stress is not compensable is if the mental stress arises out of a single specific incident. A typical example of this would be the rescue squad worker who has to go to the scene of a horrible accident and develops a mental impairment due to the exposure to the accident. I had a case involving a school bus driver who had a student point a gun at her head and pull the trigger. The gun was not loaded but the driver developed a post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident and the Commission found her claim to be compensable.

In summary, even though your boss has treated you badly, harassed you and has made you go to a doctor and lose time from work, your mental stress is not compensable under the Virginia Workers' Compensation Act. Also, even though you have deadlines to meet which has caused you stress, it is not compensable in Virginia. Nonetheless, you should always check with an experienced Virginia workers' compensation attorney. Your problem may meet one of the exceptions I have listed above.

This may be considered AN ADVERTISEMENT or Advertising Material under the Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers in Virginia. This note is designed for general information only. The information presented in this note should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.

Legal Articles Additional Disclaimer is not a law firm and does not offer legal advice. Content posted on is the sole responsibility of the person from whom such content originated and is not reviewed or commented on by The application of law to any set of facts is a highly specialized skill, practiced by lawyers and often dependent on jurisdiction. Content on the site of a legal nature may or may not be accurate for a particular state or jurisdiction and may largely depend on specific circumstances surrounding individual cases, which may or may not be consistent with your circumstances or may no longer be up-to-date to the extent that laws have changed since posting. Legal articles therefore are for review as general research and for use in helping to gauge a lawyer's expertise on a matter. If you are seeking specific legal advice, recommends that you contact a lawyer to review your specific issues. See's full Terms of Use for more information.