On May 6, the N.C. House of Representatives passed H.B. 492 which allows first responders to qualify for workers’ compensation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If passed into law, the bill would take effect July 1, 2021 and would allow law-enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency dispatchers, and emergency management services personnel to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for psychological trauma.

Although it is well established in North Carolina that employees can seek workers’ compensation benefits for mental illnesses or injuries, H.B. 492 enumerates PTSD as a compensable occupational disease for first responders employed by state and local government. To qualify for workers’ compensation under the bill, first responders would need to be examined and diagnosed with PTSD by a health care provider. In addition, the health care provider must establish within a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the PTSD is caused by the activities of employment as a first responder. 

Accordingly, the bill has the effect of removing the burden of an employee in these covered positions from having to satisfy the criteria set out in the “catch-all” provision of N.C. Gen. Stat. §97-53(13). The “catch all” provision requires employees to show evidence of causation and show the nature of the employee’s employment exposed the employee to an “increased risk” of developing PTSD. In practice, this bill has the effect of removing the legal hurdle that requires first responders to show that their particular trade increases their risk of developing PTSD more so than the general public. In addition, the legislation requires that the employing agency of first responders educate its workers on mental health awareness, prevention, mitigation, and treatment.