New Law Improves Workers Compensation
for Firefighters & Safety Officers
Cantrell Green is an Orange County law firm with more than 40 years of experience in the area of workers compensation law. In this article, our workers compensation attorneys discuss new California laws that have recently been enacted that benefit firefighters, safety officers and other first responders.
SB 542: Workers Compensation for Firefighters, Safety Officers with PTSD
There is good news for California firefighters and safety officers who suffer from PTSD as a result of their jobs. Governor Newsom has made first responders a priority since taking office. In this year alone, he has signed several bills designed to assist California firefighters, including expanding CAL FIRE’s health and wellness program to provide medical and psychological services, and establishing peer support to firefighters.
For example, SB 542, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on October 2nd, allows for treatment for PTSD to be covered by workers compensation. In other words, SB 542 recognizes post-traumatic stress suffered on the job as an injury.
SB 542, also known as the Trauma Treatment Act, was introduced by Senator Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park). In addition to providing for workers compensation coverage while they recover from their own mental health trauma, it improves mental health awareness in general among firefighters and safety officers by establishing what is called a “rebuttable presumption of injury” for first responders when they sustain job-related post-traumatic stress.
Governor Newsom recognized that while first responders’ jobs can be very rewarding, the high-stress situations and traumatic incidents they encounter on the job can push them to the limit both physically and mentally. Governor Newsom further stated that these bills were designed to ensure that firefighters and safety officers have access to whatever resources and help is necessary, in the same way these first responders assist their communities when needed.
AB 1116: Uniform Treatment Standards for Firefighters & Safety Officers
A separate bill passed by the Assembly, AB 1116, is also known as the California Firefighter Peer Support and Crisis Referral Services Act, and was initiated by Assembly member Tim Grayson (D-Concord). It establishes uniform statewide standards allowing first responders to engage in peer support programs to give emotional support to fellow employees. It also provides paid time off for first responders to heal from the emotional trauma that the duties of their jobs sometimes inflict.
AB 1116 was introduced in response to the elevated levels of suicide amongst firefighters in California that occurred after the 2017 wildfires. In fact, a study shows that in 2017 alone, there were an estimated 103 firefighter suicides and 140 police officer suicides. This is a sharp contrast to in-the-line-of-duty deaths during the same period (93 firefighters and 129 police officers). Adding PTSD to the list of covered treatments is seen as essential to assist those who walk toward danger and suffer emotional trauma as a result.
Firefighters & Safety Officers Support SB 542 and AB 1116
Not surprisingly, a network of firefighters, safety officers and mental health advocates across California lined up in support of these bills. In fact, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen and California Professional Firefighters co-sponsored the bills. These organizations were in unanimous agreement that first responders need time to address work-related mental health issues associated with major events such as wildfires and mass shootings.
Firefighters & Safety Officers Workers Compensation Attorneys
The attorneys at Cantrell Green keep careful watch on upcoming and newly enacted legislation that affects workers compensation, and how it impacts our clients. If you are a firefighter or safety officer and you think you may have experienced PTSD or similar conditions as a result of your job duties, please give us a call to set up an appointment for a free consultation. We will work with you and your doctors to establish how the stresses of your job have affected your ability to work and will do everything possible to get you the maximum benefits and compensation to which you are entitled.