There are those in the field of Philosophy that will tell you that the “slippery slope” argument is not an acceptable one. In fact, in the arena of Formal Logic it is referred to as the “Slippery Slope Fallacy” and any reasoning that attempts to use it is declared to be invalid.
I suspect those people never had to deal with First Responders and automatic presumption laws. But then again, the trends in the nation regarding compensability for First Responders defy all known logic. And now, 911 dispatchers are looking to expand the realm and definition of First Responder and the commensurate benefits to which they are now entitled.
A Colorado state lawmaker is looking to change the law to provide benefits for 911 dispatchers who experience emotional trauma on the job. Currently police, fire and other first responders are covered for such incidences, but 911 operators are not. The current law says an emergency worker has to physically witness something traumatizing; just hearing it over the phone does not count. State Representative Jonathan Singer helped secure the law providing coverage for first responders, and he hopes to close the loophole so that 911 operators can be eligible as well.
We can certainly recognize that police, firefighters, paramedics and the like can witness horrific things. I would not even suggest that help not be made available to those who experience trauma from the situations to which they are called. However, the level of automatic presumption that they are being granted in various states around the nation, not just for PTSD but for cancers and heart conditions whose connections to the job are far less clear, is a problem.
As Peter Rousmaniere competently pointed out in a recent column on this site, these decisions and benefits are being determined on a political basis rather than a scientific one. These new laws granting automatic presumption are also creating a very clear two-tier system of injured workers.
In Colorado, workers' compensation does provide some benefits for “mental only” injuries, so the stark lines of difference will not be as clear, but for many states such as Florida, which does not offer benefits for so called “mental-mental” cases, the incompatibilities of coverage are much more apparent. Under the new Florida PTSD legislation passed last year in the wake of the Parkland shooting, the shortcomings of the current emergency responder bills are available for all to see. For example, if the Parkland shooting were to occur today, the Sheriff's Deputy who famously stood outside and did nothing would be on a fast-track for PTSD benefits, while the teachers, administrators and janitors inside hiding under desks and watching their students and co-workers die would get nothing.
And if this proposed change was in Florida, the people on the phone listening to them scream would also be entitled to benefits – but there would still be nothing for the front-line victims of the crime.
This is an issue, as earlier referenced, that extends far beyond PTSD. There has been a wave of new laws providing all sorts of benefits for firefighters and other emergency personnel that are simply not currently supported by science. Even in the realm of PTSD benefits, we need to be cognizant of the fact that some jobs come with known risks and exposures, and many people are just not suited for the work. The rush for automatic coverage may create expensive situations that are ripe for potential abuse.
But in the race to satisfy public and special interest demands, logic seems to have been left behind at the curb. And that means the slippery slope argument will be much more difficult to deny.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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