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Challenge workers’ comp claim based on personal problems, gossip

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

While working as a bus driver and instructor for a school district, Carrie Geredes had a not-so-private affair with a co-worker. After the affair ended, she heard that her former lover and several other employees were spreading rumors about her. She complained and her boss immediately told everyone to put a lid on the workplace gossip.

Still, Geredes filed a workers' comp claim, saying she suffered cumulative psychiatric injury from a hostile work environment and sexual harassment. She was diagnosed with depression due to personal stresses including spousal abuse, marital breakup and the extramarital affair. She sought disability for two-and-a-half months.

A state board granted her workers' compensation, saying her co-workers were the source of the gossip, which took place at work. But an appeals court threw out the claim, saying an injury caused by workplace gossip about an employee's personal life isn't related to her employment. (Atascadero Unified School District v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Bd., No. B155026, CA2, 2002)

Advice: Challenge any workers' comp claim in which the injury does not arise out of the employee's job duties. That's true with physical ailments (broken leg in softball game) as well as psychiatric ailments caused by personal problems. Also, always take hostile work environment complaints seriously, as this company did. Don't prejudge the complaining employee. Investigate the complaint promptly and take action when appropriate.

While this claim was denied, the result might have been different if the company had found out about the gossip and allowed it to continue.

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