Workers’ Compensation and Mental Health Benefit Limits

Matthew Willis
Senior Research Analyst

Elaina Rudder
Research Analyst

History of Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ compensation systems in the United States have existed since the early 20th century with Wisconsin’s being the first in 1911 and Mississippi’s being the most recent in 1948. Unlike other worker safety nets such as unemployment insurance or disability benefits, workers’ compensation systems are not federally mandated.

Workers’ compensation systems were historically created to address physical injuries to employees by requiring all employers to be either self-insured or purchase an insurance policy to cover the medical expenses and lost wages of an employee injured on the job. When an employee was injured on the job, the employer or their insurance would provide for the employee’s medical care as well as provide additional compensation based upon the amount of time at work missed, the severity of the injury, and the permanency of the injury.

An increased understanding of mental injuries such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health injuries, especially among first responders, has led to many states amending their workers’ compensation systems to also allow for employees to receive benefits for workplace injuries that result only in a mental injury.

State Overview

In Kansas, an employee injured on the job is entitled to medical treatment that is “reasonably necessary” to cure or treat the effects of their injury. The employee may also be entitled to weekly benefit checks for 66.67 percent of the employee’s average weekly wage for a period of time based upon the type of injury received and the permanence of said injury. Kansas is one of nine states that either does not cover mental-only workplace injuries or does not have clear state law on whether mental workplace injuries would be covered.

As noted in the following chart, 41 states currently provide for workers’ compensation coverage for mental-only injuries in some capacity. Of those states, 26 only cover mental workplace injuries for first responders or mental workplace injuries accompanied by a physical injury.

The remaining 15 states have systems that will cover mental-only workplace injuries with various requirements, such as the injury being from an extraordinary event at work and having evidence from a mental health professional supporting the claim.

State Coverage of Workers’ Compensation for Mental-only Injuries

U.S. map showing which states have partial, full, or no coverage for workers' compensation for mental-only injuries.

Previous Bills in Kansas

SB 491 (2022) was introduced by the Senate Committee on Judiciary at the request of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas Sheriffs Association, and Kansas Peace Officers Association. The bill would have allowed first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD.

The bill defined a “first responder” as a firefighter, law enforcement officer, or emergency medical service provider.

The bill received a hearing on February 21, 2022, in the Senate Committee on Commerce. Proponent testimony focused primarily on the risks of first responders to suffer mental-only injuries such as PTSD and the impact that has on the employees and their work.

The issue of whether to include 911 operators in the definition of “first responder” was also brought up by a conferee and discussed by the committee.

Opponent testimony focused primarily on the potential costs to employers as well as the changes it would make to established practices and understanding of the workers’ compensation system.

The committee took no further action on the bill, and the bill died in committee.