WORKERS’ COMP FOR STRESS AND SHIFT CHANGES
Although it does not happen often, employees can get Workers’ Compensation for absences and medical costs due to job-related stress. Here is how it works.
To establish a claim that an employee sustained an emotional condition in the performance of duty, the employee must submit the following:
(1) medical evidence establishing that he has an emotional or psychiatric disorder;
(2) factual evidence identifying employment factors or incidents alleged to have caused or contributed to his condition; and
(3) rationalized medical opinion evidence establishing that the identified compensable employment factors are causally related to his emotional condition.
The Dept. of Labor, which rules on these cases, insists that the disability result from an employee’s emotional reaction to “regular or specially assigned duties or to a requirement imposed by the employment.” It denies requests where the disability results from such factors as an employee’s fear of a reduction-in-force or her frustration from not being permitted to work in a particular environment or to hold a particular position.
Even the stress flowing from supervisory harassment can result in compensation to the extent that the disputes and incidents alleged as constituting harassment by supervisors are established as occurring and arising from a claimant’s performance of her regular duties. That qualifies them as employment factors. Of course, there must be evidence that harassment did in fact occur, e.g., an EEOC decision, arbitration decision or even witness testimony. Mere perceptions of harassment are not compensable under FECA.
In a March 2012 decision DOL reiterated that a change in an employee’s work shift may under certain circumstances be a factor of employment to be considered in determining if an injury has been sustained in the performance of duty, where the evidence reflects that the employing establishment committed error or abuse.
We are not saying that it would be easy to win one of these cases, just that it is worth your consideration. If a member approaches you stressed out over an improperly implemented shift change that is causing him emotional distress, perhaps because of childcare problems it creates, there is a possibility that he could get Workers’ Comp for any absences and medical costs flowing from the shift change.
If you want to read more about this kind of claim, start with the recent case D.C v. Postal Service, March 16, 2012