A state House committee approved a bill allowing emergency personnel in Ohio who suffer job-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to file a workers’ compensation claim even if they do not have an accompanying physical injury.
Eliminating the requirement of a physical injury for a select group of employees could open the door for lawmakers to one day allow any worker to file a claim for a mental condition, an attorney for a business interest group warned lawmakers.
The change is part of House Bill 80, which allocates more than $644.6 million for the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) over the next two fiscal years. That is a sizable increase from the roughly $568 million the BWC received in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.
“This initiates a dramatic departure from over 100 years of Ohio law requiring a mental condition, such as depression or anxiety, to arise from some physical injury suffered by the claimant to be considered compensable,” Charlie Smith, special counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) in Ohio, told members of the House Finance Committee.
“Additionally, selecting a narrow subset of Ohio’s workforce for these benefits raises the risk of violating the constitutional requirement of equal protection provided to all employees,” Smith added. “Who in the Legislature can confidently explain why only a protected class of workers deserves a more generous benefit than another person with the identical physical or mental problem or condition?”
The committee voted 26-2 in favor of the bill to send it to the House Rules and Reference Committee.
State lawmakers have been debating such a change for six to eight years, state Rep. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton, said. The bill drew support from the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio and the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, but other organizations, such as the Ohio Township Association, opposed the PTSD provision.
Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, the former sheriff of Montgomery County, said while a construction worker might encounter a traumatic event once in his or her career, emergency personnel are facing such situations daily because of the opioid crisis.
“We dropped the ball here as government on these professionals,” Plummer said. “I know it’s going to cost us money. I know it’s going to cost business folks money, but we have to do what’s right.
“We’ve talked about this for a while. We’ve what if-ed this to death,” he added. “At what time are we going to stand up and say, ‘suicides are increasing, we need to protect these people who are protecting us’?”