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Will economic stress increase workers’ comp cases? State panel evens playing field

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By now, your employees—just like everyone else—know that these are rough economic times. Almost every company is finding it has to do more with less—and may even have to lay off productive employees.

That means whoever is lucky enough to still have a job must work even harder. Coupled with the stress of worrying about the economy and whether their jobs will be gone tomorrow, more employees may develop psychiatric or stress-related illnesses. Some will file workers’ compensation claims.

Some good news here in North Carolina: The state’s Industrial Commission, which decides workers’ comp claims, looks at stress in a particular workplace through the prism of all workplaces. With this economy, that means fewer employees will be able to argue that their workplace is so stressful they deserve compensation.

Recent case: Gerald Lane worked for the American National Can Company and claimed that he was so stressed at work that he ended up developing a psychiatric condition. He sued for workers’ compensation payments.

The company hired a board-certified psychiatrist who testified that, although Lane was certainly stressed, his particular job didn’t put him at any more risk than he would have experienced in another job. The psychiatrist said the stresses Lane complained about were common to many workplaces and not unusual enough.

The court agreed and dismissed the case. (Lane v. American National Can Company, No. 09-16-0170, North Carolina Court of Appeals, 2009)

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