An employee sought to upgrade his workers’ comp benefits for emotional injuries due to harassment and retaliation at his job. The employer and its insurance company fought the request because the employee also filed a wrongful termination claim. How did a court rule?
Michael Whitaker worked for the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (DOC). He filed a workers’ comp claim alleging he suffered emotional injuries because of harassment and retaliation at his job. The DOC tried to deny the claim, but the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) awarded Whitaker temporary partial disability.
Later, Whitaker was hospitalized for “major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe, with psychotic features.” He requested his benefits be increased to the higher temporary total disability rate. The DOC denied the request on the grounds that the hospitalization wasn’t related to his work injury. Once again the CAB ruled in the employee’s favor. The employer appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
The DOC argued that the request for increased benefits should be dismissed because Whitaker filed a claim with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, seeking damages for alleged wrongful termination.
The employer argued the exclusive remedy provision of the state’s workers’ comp law required an employee to choose whether to bring a claim for wrongful discharge either under the workers’ comp law or some other state law, but not both.
But the state’s highest court didn’t see it quite that way. Whitaker’s situation involved two separate matters, according to the court. He filed for workers’ comp for his workplace injury. His other claim, under another law, involved his discharge from work, not his injury.
Therefore, the court said there was no reason why Whitaker’s request for upgraded workers’ comp coverage should be denied because of his separate claim under another law for wrongful termination.
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(Appeal of New Hampshire Department of Corrections, Supreme Court of NH, No. 2010-811, 11/29/2011)