Legal Aspects of Work-Related Mental Illness and Disorder
Adler, Stephen, Atlas, Renee, The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences
Abstract: Workers' compensation laws exist to compensate workers for injuries sustained on the job. In Israel, this includes mental as well as physical injuries, both generally described by the law as "work accidents." Courts readily accept mental injuries as work-related when they are caused by physical work events. In cases where a physical event precipitates mental injury, courts allow presumptions of work-relatedness as proof of part of the case. However, when a psychological event causes a psychological illness (referred to as "purely psychological" cases), courts must grapple with ascertaining whether these non-visible, internal events, often accompanied by multiple causes, have the requisite work connection to justify compensation. Ultimately, a court requires proof of each aspect of a purely psychological case to assure itself of the legitimacy of the claim. To provide courts with requisite proof of work-relatedness, a claimant in a purely psychological case must show that the event was sudden, unexpected, severe, and that it was caused in significant part by work, as viewed objectively, rather than on the basis of a claimant's subjective perception of reality. Gradual events, such as repetitive work stress, are generally not compensated. Presumptions of work-relatedness will not apply. The workers' compensation system cannot bear the burden for psychological events that occur as a usual part of the work environment or that are the result of multiple non-work-related causes.
Israel's National Insurance Law is a cradle-to-grave public social welfare system (1). Its provisions follow those insured from the womb, where they can receive maternity hospitalization grants, through the grave, where they can receive a burial allowance. If the person insured is a worker, the mandatory payment to the National Insurance Fund is made through the employer and is a proportion of his or her wages (1, 2). The subject of this article is one type of benefit covered by the National Insurance Law: Work Accident Insurance, which is financed solely by the employers. Work Accident Insurance, which we will refer to as Workers' Compensation (or "WC") provides compensation for workers who are injured on the job. In Israel, self-employed workers are also covered by WC.
Prior to the WC law, workers who were injured at work needed to prove in a court that their injury was caused by their employer's negligence in order to win money for the injury and for their inability to work and earn an income (3, 4). The WC law replaced the negligence system with a "no-fault" system. Under WC law, it no longer matters who caused the on-the-job injury, so long as the injury arose out of or occurred at work (3). In exchange for not having to prove himself or herself free of fault, or the employer guilty of fault, the worker's recovery under WC law is limited to his or her earnings or to a proportion of those earnings (3). The employer benefits from WC law because in most states (excluding Israel) an employee who brings a WC case is disallowed from bringing other lawsuits against the employer (3).
In Israel, a claim for any work injury begins with an application to the National Insurance Institute (4). The worker, whom we will call the claimant, or plaintiff, can appeal a denial of workers' compensation. The labor courts have exclusive authority to hear claims regarding National Insurance Law. (5). An appeal from a decision of the National Insurance Institute first goes to one of five regional labor courts, and can be appealed further by the unsuccessful party to the National Labor Court. There is no right of appeal to the Supreme Court, but that Court may hear a petition as the High Court of Justice (Bagatz) (5).
Only events that are sufficiently connected to work, by a pattern of facts recognized by the courts, will be eligible for a WC award (6). Claims in which a psychological injury results from a psychological event are being brought more frequently, due in part to the intensification of stresses at work (7). …