Just when you thought you knew every reason to keep your workplace harassment-free, here’s yet another one: workers’ compensation.
A workplace permeated by any form of sexual harassment may leave some sensitive employees emotionally scarred and eligible for workers’ compensation payments, according to a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision.
Recent case: Ronald Hopton suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, allegedly brought on by a stint in Vietnam when his commanding officer demanded sexual favors. When he went to work for a mine company, his supervisor also made passes at him and lewd comments about his body. That caused flashbacks and left Hopton incapable of working.
He sued for workers’ comp benefits, arguing that his boss’s behavior caused his disability. The workers’ comp judge agreed and awarded benefits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently upheld the award, concluding employers can be held liable when sexual harassment causes psychiatric injuries. (RAG Emerald Resources v. Compensation Appeals Board [Hopton], No. 1 WAP 2005, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, 2007)
Final tip: Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, employers are liable for employees’ psychiatric injuries if “abnormal working conditions” are the cause. This case is significant because the state supreme court saw a violation of anti-discrimination law as an abnormal working condition. Presumably, a hostile work environment targeting a race, nationality, religion or disability could also cause psychiatric damage and make the employer liable for workers’ comp benefits.