CA: Most of YouTube’s San Bruno Employees OK after Shooting; But May Struggle to get Needed Work Comp Coverage

Liz Carey

San Bruno, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Although few of the more than 1,100 employees of YouTube at the company’s San Bruno office were injured in the shooting this week (WorkersCompensation.com coverage here), many of them may still face complications as a result of the incident, and may face difficulty getting those complications covered by workers’ compensation.

Some attorneys say a pro-active approach by Google, YouTube’s parent company, could help its employees, but that a system geared more to protecting employers than employees will make it difficult for employees who fall victim to PTSD in the following months to collect their due benefits. And they point to the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting as evidence.

Authorities identified Nasim Najagi Aghdam as the suspect in Tuesday’s shooting incident at YouTube. Allegedly, she complained that the company was “ruining” her life. Aghdam, a South California woman described as in her late 30s, called herself “the first Persian vegan body builder,” and complained that employees of YouTube were actively filtering and putting restrictions on her videos to lower her video views.

Police said, that a little after 1 p.m. PST, Aghdam entered the YouTube complex in San Bruno, and opened fire on employees eating lunch on an open-air patio. Three employees were shot and one was injured as he tried to flee. Two of the three shooting victims have been released from the hospital, while the third person’s condition has been downgraded from critical to serious.

After the shooting, Agdham apparently turned the gun on herself and was found dead at the scene.

Chief Ed Barberini, with the San Bruno Police Department, said there is no indication that Agdham knew any of her victims.

“At this point in the investigation, it is believed that the suspect was upset at the policies and practices of YouTube. This appears to be the motive for this incident,” Barberini said.

Scenes from the incident showed YouTube employees with their arms raised leaving the scene accompanied by police officers.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the employees who weren’t harmed will not be affected by the incident.

Employees from San Bernardino County who were part of a mass shooting in 2015, suffered lingering after effects of their ordeal.

On Dec. 2, 2015, two shooters, a man and a woman, dressed in assault-style clothing and carrying assault-style weapons, entered the Inland Regional Center, a San Bernardino County facility that served developmentally disabled residents. The shooters opened fire on a training session for county employees; killing 14 and injuring 21, in what, at the time, had been the largest mass shooting incident in the country. (Since then, larger and more deadly attacks have occurred in Southerland Springs, LV and most recently Parkland, FL.)

The incident seemed to stem from an altercation or disagreement during a Christmas party that county restaurant inspector Syed Rizwan Farook attended. After leaving the party, Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, returned to the county facility with handguns and two assault rifles. The two fired more than 75 bullets into the meeting room before fleeing. Police apprehended the couple later, leaving in a rented SUV. Both suspects were shot in the midst of a gun fight with police.

But years later, employees with San Bernardino County are still struggling with the mental and emotional toll the shooting took on them.

More than 50 of those employees suffered from PTSD following the shooting.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 7 to 8 percent of all people who experience trauma develop PTSD. In 2005, the NIMH predicted that reported PTSD would likely rise sharply by 2015 and become one of the top health issues for the 21st century.

Researchers say helping to cure PTSD means getting counselling quickly. But employees who witnessed the event say there was no counselling for them the day of the incident. First responders had counsellors available to them, according to the San Bernardino Sun.

Employees who witnessed the event also dealt with battles over workers’ compensation, according to the San Bernardino Sun.

Although California law requires that when an employee is injured, the employer must immediately open a workers’ compensation claim and send the employee for medical treatment, in the case of the San Bernardino workers who were witnesses to the shooting, no claims were opened, and employees were not told they were entitled to counseling, medication and other post-trauma care under workers’ compensation until an attorney told them in an informal meeting nearly two months later.

Some of the employees returned to work without counselling. Months later, some of the survivors began experiencing issues processing their workers’ compensation claims, including delays, denials or limits for therapy, counseling and prescriptions, including painkillers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.

The impact of the shooting on these physically unharmed victims continued for years.

“While most would like to return to work, their permanent injuries prevent their return and have forced some like Ray Britain, to medically retire from the county, Geraldine Ly, a workers’ compensation attorney in Santa Ana told the San Bernardino Sun in November 2017.

County records show it processed more than 2,763 treatment requests, approving more than 2,400 of the claims, including 137 modified claims, that typically reduced treatment. Of the claims, 200 were denied, 94 of which were appealed. Of those, 22 denials were overturned. The county also denied psychological injury claims from 24 employees who weren’t present during the attack.

As of Nov. 30, 2017, the San Bernardino Sun reported, 29 of the 57 survivors had returned to work for the county. Twelve of those work full-time, 10 work part-time with restrictions, five are out on medical leave and two have left the county.

WorkersCompensation.com asked the California Department of Industrial Relations, Office of Workers’ Compensation if PTSD that occurred as a result of incidents like the YouTube shooting would be covered by workers’ compensation. A spokesperson with the department told WorkersCompensation.com in an email the office was researching the questions. At press time, the spokesperson had not yet responded.

On the day of the shooting, Google Communications tweeted that it would be providing employees with “a help line.” Since then, the company, which owns YouTube, has tweeted, “Our employees have been encouraged to take time off of work, or work from home and we are making sure wellness services are readily available.”

Google did not immediately respond to questions regarding whether or not the San Bruno office employees had been offered counseling; what “wellness services” entailed; how many, if any, workers’ compensation claims had been opened or filed; and whether or not the company had spoken to its team members in San Bruno about workers’ compensation coverage for PTSD.

According to Roger Thompson and Donald T. DeCarlo, with Insurance Advocate, PTSD may not manifest itself until months after the incident.

“PTSD is not diagnosed until at least one month has passed since the time a traumatic event has occurred. If symptoms are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no lab tests to specifically diagnose PTSD, the doctor may use various tests to rule out physical illness as the cause of the symptoms… The diagnosis of PTSD is based on reported symptoms, including any problems with functioning caused by the symptoms. The doctor then determines if the symptoms and degree of dysfunction indicate PTSD — it is then diagnosed if the person has symptoms that last for more than one month.”

According to Sue Borg, a partner with DuRard, McKenna and Borg, a law firm in San Mateo, CA, Google would be best served by being pro-active and letting its employees at the San Bruno office know that they are eligible for workers’ compensation coverage for PTSD, even if they don’t have physical injuries.

“They should notify their employees that if they were injured or witnessed a workplace shooting, that workers’ compensation will cover medical issues that arise as a result of that,” Borg said in an interview with WorkersCompensation.com. “(PTSD) is something that takes time to develop, but if Google is proactive and provides counseling to their employees they can decrease the likelihood that employees will suffer from it.”

The problems that arise, Borg said, are when employees try to get treatment after the fact. Like the San Bernardino employees, YouTube’s San Bruno employees may find workers’ compensation claims difficult to collect.

“What’s happening to (the San Bernardino employees) is what happens to all workers in the workers’ compensation system in California, and that’s because the system is so broken,” Borg said.

Borg said the system errs on the side of employers instead of employees, and makes it difficult for employees to get treatment. In addition, she said, due to the difficulties in getting treatments approved through workers’ compensation, many medical professionals are no longer seeing patients with workers’ compensation claims.

“Many doctors are pulling out of the system,” she said. “Especially in the mental health field. It’s hard to find psychiatric help in the Bay area for workers’ compensation claims.”