Work Related Stress and Workers' Compensation
Recently, the New York Courts addressed the issues faced by injured workers’ seeking to file a Workers’ Compensation claim for work related stress.
In Matter of Kraus, the injured worker (claimant) worked for a large grocery store chain administering company policies related to on the job injuries. The claimant was responsible for identifying and distinguishing work-related injuries based upon whether or not they involved a motor-vehicle. Based upon the claimant’s inconsistent application of the employer’s policy, he began to receive personal threats from workers filing claims for injuries that he was responsible for administering. The claimant was ultimately terminated for poor performance, partly due to his misapplication of their internal policy. As a result, the claimant filed a claim for occupational disease due to work-related stress, death threats, threats of physical violence, and allegations of dishonesty.
For a mental injury premised on work-related stress to be compensable, a claimant must demonstrate that the stress that caused the claimed mental injury was greater than that which other similarly situated workers experienced in the normal work environment. In Matter of Kraus, the proof of injury offered at the hearings included testimony from coworkers, revealing an extremely stressful and untenable situation, of which claimant bore the brunt, primarily resulting from the employer's questionable policy. As a result of that internal policy, the claimant received "dozens and dozens" of phone calls from the unionized employee drivers threatening him and calling him a liar and a cheat. After receiving these calls for months, claimant began mental health treatment and was prescribed an antidepressant. The claimant also started sweating and having chest pains and feelings of doom and continuing panic. These feelings continued after claimant's termination. The claimant testified that he still felt that his life was in jeopardy. The claimant testified that as a result of incidents that occurred after his termination, he became afraid to go outside and even filed several police reports. This testimony was corroborated by witness’ and documentation. Further, the claimant’s psychiatrist diagnosed the claimant with PTSD that was secondary to these threats and his fear that he was going to be attacked and beaten and killed.
The court ultimately established this claim for work-related PTSD. It is important to understand that the Workers’ Compensation board has implemented a high and unusual standard for work related stress claims. It is the injured workers’ burden to demonstrate that the stress that they suffer from is greater than that which other similarly situated workers experience. Essentially, New York is relying on the idea that everyone deals with stress at work. This alone does not qualify you for a work related stress claim. There must be excessive or abnormal stress that you are dealing with. As in Matter of Kraus, the fact that the claimant was receiving harassment and physical threats was sufficient to meet this burden of proof. However, every job is different and requires exposure to varying amounts of threats; based upon your specific jobs and duties, your claim for stress can be based upon different factors.
If you feel that you have a work-related stress claim, please feel free to contact our office for a free consultation. We would be happy to review your claim and assist you the best that we can.
Written by Rodrigo Arcuri, Esq.