Governor Newsom has now signed SB 542, a bill which creates a rebuttable presumption that firefighters and certain peace officers diagnosed with PTSD have incurred an industrial injury.
The billed sailed through the California legislature, receiving a 33-3 vote in the California Senate and then a September 10 77-0 vote in the California Assembly. Opposition by the California Coalition on Workers’ Compensation, the California Association of Joint Powers Authorities and various counties did not block the bill.
Proponents had argued that firefighting and law enforcement are some of the most stressful occupations, and many of those workers experience PTSD problems, depression and troubling suicide rates. They argued that creating a presumption will encourage many of those workers to seek help and remove barriers to care.
Opponents had argued that creating a lower threshold for filing a psychological claim would result in fraud, frictional costs, high cost to governmental entities, and “adverse outcomes”.
Several aspects of the bill are notable:
• The firefighter or peace officer must have been on the job for at least six months for the presumption to apply, but there is an exception if the triggering event is a “sudden and extraordinary employment condition” (note that “sudden and extraordinary” is a term that is also used under Labor Code 3208.3 as an exception to the six month employment requirement for psych claims and as an exception to the bar on post-termination psych claims)
•The presumption is rebuttable, meaning that it can be disputed and controverted by other evidence, but the presumption applies unless the WCAB finds that the presumption has been overcome;
•A wide variety of firefighting units are covered, as well as a large range of sheriffs, parole officers, correctional officers, police, CHP and more;
• The bill extends the presumption following termination of service for a period of three months for each full year of service, not to exceed 60 months from the last date actually worked;
•PTSD is to be defined using the “most recent” edition of the American Psychiatric Association DSM;
•The bill is not retroactive and applies to injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2020;
•The bill sunsets on January 1, 2025 and is repealed as of that date unless extended by later legislation;
This is a big win for the firefighters and California law enforcement groups, all of which remain a potent force in the legislature.
Here is a link to the text of SB 542 and the legislative analyses:
Stay tuned. I the coming weeks I will be blogging on other bills that the Governor signs.