By: Mark Barnes
As we previously reported, in January of 2021, Governor Mike DeWine signed Ohio House Bill 308, which provides for compensation and benefits to public safety officers (a.k.a. “first responders”) who sustain a disability from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) received in the course of and arising out of employment, but without a physical injury. House Bill 308 became effective on April 12, 2021.
House Bill 308 created a new section in the Revised Code, R.C. 126.65, which falls under laws governing the Office of Budget and Management. This is notable because Ohio’s workers’ compensation law, found in R.C. 4121 and R.C. 4123, covers workplace injuries. Under R.C. 126.65, compensation for PTSD sustained by first responders shall be provided by the “state post-traumatic stress fund created in the state treasury.”
Participation in Ohio’s workers’ compensation law for a psychiatric condition such as PTSD first requires a physical injury sustained by the claimant in the course of and arising out of the workplace incident. Under R.C. 4123.01(C)(1), psychiatric conditions must arise from an injury or occupational disease. In Armstrong v. John R. Jurgensen Co., 136 Ohio St.3d 58 (2013), the Ohio Supreme Court reiterated that so-called “mental-mental” claims are not compensable under the workers’ compensation law.
At this stage, it is unclear what effect, if any, R.C. 126.65 will have on the compensability of psychiatric claims under the workers’ compensation law. The fact that R.C. 126.65 is a separate law, which is not funded by the workers’ compensation state fund, suggests R.C. 126.65 will not impact the workers’ compensation law, at least in the immediate future. The new law also contains an anti-retaliation provision, which provides for reinstatement and back pay if an employer discharges, demotes, reassigns, or takes any punitive action against a public safety officer who has filed or pursued a PTSD claim under R.C. 126.65.