Safety and OSHA News

Court: No workers’ comp for employee who claims hostile work environment

A trainer at a customer call center says a hostile work environment caused her to develop hypertension, type 2 diabetes and stress. She filed for workers’ comp, and her claim was rejected. Why did a court say her injuries weren’t compensable? 

Etheloma Perkins worked for Dish Network in West Virginia. She says that, despite reporting harassment, she wasn’t removed from her supervisory position for several months.

On March 30, 2015, Perkins was admitted to the hospital after experiencing suicidal thoughts. She says hostility at work resulted in her contemplation of suicide.

Her discharge diagnoses included bipolar disorder, recurrent depression with contemplation of suicide, and panic disorder with agoraphobia. She filed for workers’ comp benefits.

A claims administrator rejected the claim because it wasn’t work-related.

Perkins appealed, claiming that since she wasn’t diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes and stress before her alleged workplace harassment, there is a causal connection between her employer’s actions and her conditions.

Medical records showed Perkins had previously been diagnosed with a mood disorder and bipolar disorder.

The West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Office of Judges found the likely diagnosis for Perkins’ current problem was bipolar disorder which is considered a disease of ordinary life and not unique to her occupation.

Perkins failed to establish she suffered an occupational injury. No treating physicians suggested the condition she is suffering from was work-related, according to the Office of Judges.

A state appeals court recently ruled Perkins failed to show any physical injury, therefore her claim wasn’t compensable under West Virginia’s workers’ comp law. For a psychiatric injury to be compensable in West Virginia, there must be an accompanying physical injury, as is the case in many but not all states.

For those reasons the appeals court upheld the Office of Judges’ ruling that Perkins couldn’t collect workers’ comp benefits.

(Etheloma Perkins v. Dish Network Customer Call Center, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, No. 16-0267, 3/3/17)

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