Mental health aid proposed for Sandy Hook workers

The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School have sparked debate in the Connecticut legislature over a bill to provide workers' compensation benefits to workers who suffer from mental illness due to workplace trauma. The proposed legislation would amend the state's workers' compensation laws to create a fund for workers exposed to the death or maiming of another person in the workplace. The legislative measure focuses on the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and would compensate police, firefighters, teachers and other workers affected by what they witnessed.

The legislation creates a special fund administered through the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission to provide benefits for physical and emotional injuries sustained by a worker. Legislative leaders said the bill addresses a problem faced by workers, including first responders, who must return to work after using allotted sick days and personal days while still suffering from emotional trauma.

Purpose of workers' compensation laws

Connecticut's workers' compensation laws were first enacted in 1913. The laws established a system to compensate workers injured or killed in work-related accidents or incidents. The Worker's Compensation Commission oversees the system and issues regulations, determines compensation amounts and holds hearings on worker claims.

The system of compensation for workers in the state also provides protection for employers by shielding them from lawsuits. The workers' compensation laws limit the ability of injured workers to file lawsuits against their employers for accidents or illnesses occurring on the job.

Filling a gap in worker's compensation coverage

The sponsors of the proposed legislation see a need to compensate the Sandy Hook workers for the emotional injuries associated with bearing witness to the death or maiming of a fellow worker or, in the case of police and rescue workers, other victims of violence.

Legislators have stated that the current workers' compensation system is designed primarily to address work-related issues involving a person's physical well-being. Supporting lawmakers expressed concern that emotional trauma, mental illness and stress-related illnesses are overlooked under the current system.

Funding the proposed legislation

If enacted, the new law would establish a special fund administered by the Connecticut Worker's Compensation Commission, but funded by donations from the private sector, including:

  • Private citizens
  • Corporate sponsors 
  • Charitable and philanthropic organizations

Lawmakers stated that taxpayer money would not be allocated for this special fund.

Protect yourself when injured on the job

Laws pertaining to compensation for workers who suffer injuries or illnesses incurred on the job can be complicated. Even the new legislative proposal has some lawmakers concerned about how the Workers' Compensation Commission would interpret the word "maiming" in deciding a person's entitlement to benefits.