Today Your Legal Corner will discuss “employee stress and workers compensation.”
In this hectic, multitasking world in which we live, stress is unavoidable. However, when it comes to stress, we are not all created equal. According to Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, there are individuals who experience anxiety in the absence of stress and individuals who experience very little anxiety in extremely stressful situations.
In this latter group, science has demonstrated that twenty percent of individuals have a genetic variant that results in a high level of anandamide in the brain making them less anxious and less stressed out. The fact that we are all walking around with an assortment of genetic variants that make us more or less anxious or stressed makes us realize that all employee workers compensation stress claims are not alike.
Although stress-related disabilities can be both physical and psychological, the issue presented is whether the disability is deemed to be work related to be considered a viable workers compensation for stress claim.
Workers compensation resulting from stress
Employment stress, in certain instances, may be a recognizable cause of action under workers compensation law. Basically, stress may be a recognizable cause of action when the (1) stress produces physical symptoms and/or when (2) stress results in psychiatric symptoms resulting from the workplace.
While it is best to consult with an attorney, the following are examples of the basic types of workers comp stress related claims provided for general information.
Workers compensation claim with stress related physical symptoms
In a tragic case, an employee’s family claimed he suffered a fatal heart attack as a result of work stress. They argued the employee feared that he was going to lose his job and that this resulted in his fatal heart attack. The court held that to recover, there had to be a casual connection between the fatal heart attack and work strain.
The court relied on the fact that the employee’s medical records did not reflect he was concerned or stressed or feared the possibility of unemployment. Simply because one has an unfounded fear of unemployment is not enough to attribute such emotional strain to the workplace. The court concluded that subjective anxiety did not give rise to compensation.
To have a viable claim, stress must be objectively verifiable. In other words, present evidence that work stress was a material cause of the stress.
Workers compensation claim with stress related psychiatric symptoms
Do you have a boss that screams all the time? In one case, the employee claimed her boss’s screaming along with an extremely heavy workload made her job so stressful to create a compensable claim.
However, the facts were quite different. The employee received favorable reviews for her work performance contrary to what she alleged. When she left work, she told her co- workers it was to take care of her mother who was currently on hospice, not due to psychiatric stress from her employer screaming at her as she claimed.
The court held that in order to maintain a stress related claim, an individual must establish that the permanent disability materially resulted from “objectively verified” job related stress. The court dismissed her claim.
In both cases, there was a disconnect between what the employee alleged and the facts. While it may be true that an individual’s stress tolerance will vary, it is also true that just because one feels a certain way, does not make it so. It must be supported by sound evidence determined to be fact.
For a specific analysis as to whether or not you have a workers compensation for stress claim and answers to all your legal questions, do consult with an experienced workers compensation attorney.
Till next week, God bless, keep smiling, when Your Legal Corner will provide information regarding “an employee’s dependents and a worker’s compensation claim.”
Victoria M. Dalton is an attorney with the law firm of Hoffman DiMuzio.
For questions, contact Victoria at [email protected] and be sure to Follow Us on Facebook for more informational articles about the law.
Your Legal Corner was created to provide educational articles about the law and is not legal advice.