Workers’ Compensation Court Demands Higher Proofs in Mental Stress Cases

Posted in Workers' Compensation

For many years now the Workers’ Compensation Courts have recognized not only the emotional impact of physical injury, but also psychiatric problems as a result of work.  However, the Courts are quick to draw a line between something happening at work likely to cause someone to go through stress and people merely claiming that their job is stressful.  An Appeals Court in New Jersey recently reconfirmed just how difficult it is to prove a stress claim in the Workers’ Compensation Court.

In the recent case, a former employee of Middlesex County found himself going from a boss who allowed him to come and go as he pleased to one who demanded that he account for his time.  After the new boss took over, the worker was “written up” twice and reprimanded for being late or not at work at all.  The worker believes the reprimands were unfair and that he was being singled out.  He claimed that his new boss made ethnic slurs behind his back which complaint was dismissed.  He was later charged with filing a false report and was suspended for 60 days.

He claimed that as a result of this treatment, he was caused to suffer stress which resulted in being in need of treatment and unable to work.  The Court reasoned that the exercise of discipline where workers are not conforming to work rules does not lead to the kinds of stress recognized by the Workers’ Compensation Court.
    
In order to make a claim for a psychiatric disability as a result of stress at work, the Court requires; first, the working conditions must be stressful, when viewed not by the person feeling the stress, but rather objectively by a third person and that such believable evidence must support a finding that the worker reacted to them as stressful.  Next, the stressful work conditions must be applicable to that particular workplace and there must be objective evidence supporting a medical opinion beyond the mere experience of the person feeling the stress.
    
There are many for whom work is a stressful experience.  The difference between stress felt everyday in a workplace and that stress which gives rise to a claim under the Workers’ Compensation Act, is that the stress in the workplace must be of a type that when viewed through the eyes of a third person would be such that would reasonably give a worker stress.
    
One of the problems that arises in workers’ compensation are those who are feeling the stress at work either because of deadlines or performance issues who go to their physician who suggest that for their mental health they take time off of work.  Those people are directed to go to make an application to temporary disability insurance and find their application rejected when they tell temporary disability insurance that the stress is work related.
    
What this means is that if you are suffering from a stress claim, obtain a legal consultation before you apply for temporary disability as an incorrectly filled out application may stand in the way of you getting benefits.