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Employee must prove work caused psychiatric injuries

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California employees who claim their jobs have caused them psychiatric problems have to meet a higher standard than they would for physical injuries. They must prove that “actual events of employment” were the “predominant” cause of the alleged psychiatric injury. Generally, that means that workplace conditions must have triggered at least 50% of the injury. Otherwise, employees could blame any stress-related problems on their jobs.

Now a California appeals court has clarified that workers’ compensation does not cover psychological or psychiatric injuries that an employee herself caused.

Recent case: Rosemary Verga was by all accounts a difficult employee. She had trouble getting along with others, was frequently rude, inflexible, easily upset and demeaning. But she turned around and said her co-workers’ reactions to her behavior caused her psychiatric injuries.

Verga claimed that when she told her boss her co-workers should be reined in, he arranged a meeting. It did not go as Verga expected. Her boss distributed a document he called “Rules of the Road,” which called for mutual respect in the workplace. During the meeting, the boss let Verga’s co-workers criticize her abrasive behavior. She was not allowed to respond. After the meeting, Verga sought psychiatric treatment and went on medical leave.

Verga applied for workers’ compensation, but was rejected. On appeal, the court refused to change that ruling, reasoning that Verga caused her own psychiatric injury, not her co-workers. They were only responding to her behavior. It likened her problem to self-injury. Verga had argued that it really didn’t matter what caused her troubles as long as they were triggered by the workplace. (Verga v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, No. C055711, Court of Appeal of California, 3rd Appellate Division, 2008) 

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