Everyone has experienced stressful times while at work, whether they were tight deadlines, arguments with a coworker, or dealing with difficult customers. Can that stress, and any resulting psychological issues, be considered a compensable Workers’ Compensation claim in New York State? The answer, not surprisingly, is that some, but not all, psychological injuries are compensable.
It has been held that undue or excessive work-related stress and anxiety may constitute an accident under the NYS Workers Compensation Law. Section 2(7) of the NYS Workers Compensation law specifically states that a claim for a mental injury that is based on work-related stress and is a direct consequence of a lawful personnel decision involving a disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, demotion or termination which is taken in good faith by the employer is not compensable. This is the first tactic to denying a purely mental or stress claim. If the claimant’s alleged stress reaction was caused by a lawful personnel decision such as a termination or disciplinary action, then dismissal of the claim should be sought under Section 2(7).
In addition to all of the ordinary requirements in pursuing a claim, in order for a solely mental or stress claim to be found compensable, the claimant is required to show that the stress he or she was under at work was more than that which other similar employees were subjected to. Kaliski v. Fairchild Republic Co., 151 A.D.2d 867 (3rd Dept. 1989. For example, the court affirmed the disallowance of a mental stress claim when the claimant was working as a paramedic and was the first to arrive at a scene where a man had been run over by a trash compactor truck. Matter of Guess v. Finger Lakes Ambulance, 28 A.D.3d 996 (3rd Dept. 2006). In contrast, the Full Board affirmed the establishment of a claim for post-traumatic stress disorder in Oneida County DSS, where the claimant was an investigator with child protective services. G0639782, 2015 WL 2224005 (N.Y. Work. Comp. Bd. May 11, 2015). In the course of an investigation, the claimant was led to a morgue to view a corpse which was not a typical part of the claimant’s job description, responsibilities, or duties and therefore the claimant had been subjected to stress over and above the normal stresses of similarly situated child protective caseworkers.
In sum, whether a work related stress claim or mental injury is compensable in New York is very fact specific and will depend on what the claimant’s specific job requirements were and the alleged incident or circumstances that resulted in the claimant’s psychiatric diagnosis. As an employer, however, there are many defenses to raise against these claims. We strongly recommend consulting your attorney before considering whether to accept or deny a mental stress claim.