Law enforcement officers and firefighters will have additional time to file workers’ compensation claims for work-related post-traumatic stress under a bill that passed a House committee on Thursday with no opposition.
Despite the bill advancing, some members of the House Government Operations Committee, including HB 689 sponsor Rep. Mike Giallombardo, wonder if the proposal goes far enough.
The bill builds off a 2018 law that modified the state’s workers’ compensation laws to allow first responders who have job-induced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to tap into indemnity benefits which compensate injured workers for a portion of their lost wages while out of work with an injury.
First responders would have 90 days after getting diagnosed with PTSD to file a notice of claim with their employer. Any claim not filed within 52 weeks of the PTSD diagnosis would be barred under Giallombardo’s bill.
Under current law, first responders must file notices within 90 days of the qualifying event or manifestation of the disorder. Likewise, any claim not filed within 52 weeks of the qualifying event or manifestation is barred.
“First responders absolutely need this expansion,” House Government Operations Subcommittee member Rep. Tom Fabricio said. “We want to make sure they are not caught in a gotcha situation, and they are able to get benefits that they need.”
Committee Vice-Chair Anthony Rodriguez questioned whether the provisions apply to “front-line workers,”
“I just want to know if this is only for first responders or front-line workers as well because I would like to see this across the board. First responders are obviously super important, but our front-line workers in totality are important.”
Giallombardo conceded that it did not.
“I do think that there needs to be more. We want to start to move the needle, and that’s what this does. There’s been a couple of other bills that look at corrections and folks that are in the dispatch centers. It is needed,” Giallombardo said. “And I think that we kind of … need to be moving the needle a little bit more, but this is kind of a start.”
Meanwhile, a legislative staff analysis indicates that the bill’s fiscal impact is indeterminate. The Department of Financial Services (DFS), which houses the state’s Division of Workers’ Compensation, analyzed the bill that indicates the changes could have a “significant” increase on state and local government workers’ compensation costs.
DFS reported the state paid 50 claims filed by first responders since the law was changed in 2018. Those claims totaled more than $2.1 million, or an average of $42,326.09 per claim.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system designed to protect both the injured workers and the employer. Injured workers are supposed to get the medical benefits they require to make them whole following an injury, as well as compensation for lost wages. The benefits are provided under the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance.
Under the workers’ compensation system, an injured employee cannot file a civil suit against their employer for causing the injury.
Florida’s workers’ compensation laws generally don’t allow injured workers to be compensated for mental or nervous injuries without an accompanying physical injury that requires medical treatment. But that was changed in 2007 to enable first responders to get medical benefits.
It wasn’t until 2018, when Sen. Lauren Book and Rep. Matt Wilhite pushed the issue, that the Legislature changed the law to allow first responders with PTSD who work for state and local governments to receive workers’ compensation benefits for days of lost work.
House documents show 10 lobbyists have registered for HB 689, four of whom represent the Florida League of Cities.