The words “Nebraska” and “ahead of the curve” aren’t often used together. But when it comes to mental-mental workers compensation benefits for first responders, Nebraska has been well ahead of states like Florida, Washington and Oregon in providing those benefits.
Thomas Robinson, the author of the leading treatise on workers’ compensation, recently published an article summarizing recent state legislation expanding mental-mental benefits to first responders. Mental-mental workers’ compensation injuries are mental distress injuries not related back to a physical injury.
Nebraska first created mental-mental workers’ compensation benefits for first responders in 2010. The benefits were made permanent in 2012. In 2017 the benefits were expanded to prison guards and other state employees who work with high-risk individuals. Nebraska was well ahead of Florida, Washington, Connecticut, Oregon, New Mexico and Idaho which only recently expanded mental-mental workers’ compensation benefits to first responders.
Many first responders in Nebraska are volunteer firefighters. Those volunteers aren’t paid wages, but they are still covered by workers’ compensation in Nebraska. The coverage includes benefits for permanent and total disability.
I agree with Robinson’s arguments questioning the constitutionality of giving mental-mental workers’ compensation to first responders but not all workers. Robinson uses the example of truck drivers. I’ve written frequently about the violence that low paid retail workers are exposed to in their work.
Workplace violence struck close to our office last week when a local man rammed his truck through the window of a Chick-Fil-A near Southpointe Mall in Lincoln. The man was armed with a stun gun and was shot by a sworn officer who reportedly driving through the drive-in. Under Nebraska law, the Chick-Fil-A employees could not make a workers’ compensation claim solely for mental distress. The officer would have a stronger argument for mental-mental workers’ compensation benefits.
I also agree with Robinson that teachers deserve mental-mental workers’ compensation benefits. The recent passage of mental-mental workers’ compensation benefits was partly motivated by a response to various high-profile school shootings. Other responses to school shootings have been less helpful. In April I wrote about work injuries sustained by teachers in Indiana during a mass shooting drill. In that injury a teacher was shot “execution style” with a paintball gun. The union representing teacher’s in Indiana drew attention to this incident in legislative testimony about school safety. That is one example of how unions help improve workplace safety.