Fleidner v. Wyeth Labs, Nos. 2004-12393 and 2004-22138 (N.J. Dep't of Labor and Workforce Development, Div. of Workers' Compensation 2009).
A New Jersey judge of compensation found the worker failed to establish that her mental disability arose out of or in the course of her employment. The judge held the worker failed to prove a causal connection between her tense working relationship with her boss and her bipolar disorder.
What it means: In New Jersey, mental disabilities are compensable when they arise out of job-related related stress and anxiety. However, where the employee has a predisposition for a mental condition, she must show that there were peculiar conditions in the workplace that would be stressful to workers without the predisposition.
A pharmaceutical employee alleged her bipolar disorder was caused by a stressful working relationship with her boss. The employer contested the causal connection between her workplace exposure and her disability. The judge noted her history of numerous outside stressors and noted the employee's lack of credibility. The judge determined that while New Jersey law deems mental disabilities compensable when they arise out of objective work-related stress and anxiety, the employee did not prove her disorder was causally related to tense working conditions. Under the law, a worker must show: 1) the conditions were objectively stressful; 2) the evidence supports a finding they were stressful; 3) the working conditions are peculiar to the job; 4) there is objective medical evidence supporting a medical opinion of mental disability; and 5) the work exposure materially impacts the condition. The judge found the employee did not meet her burden of proving the five factors.
She alleged her new boss increased her stress level by failing to attend meetings, failing to review her work in a timely manner, and generally hindering the workflow. However, she testified she began to feel depressed on or around the same time her new boss took over, thus lessening her credibility as to the condition's origins. She also acknowledged her ex-fiance raped her two years before her alleged workplace stress began. She testified she had to obtain a restraining order against him and admitted she had to change her work number because he kept calling. She also admitted to stress from a failed investment in which she lost $30,000.
Her medical records showed she admitted the rape to certain doctors but not others, thus bearing on her credibility. The medical records also showed her therapists thought she had a "preoccupation with her job" and that she was unable to have insight into other possible causes of her stress. The judge determined the employer was not responsible for her disability and denied benefits.
Read more at the WORKERSCOMP ForumTM homepage.
July 20, 2009
Copyright 2009© LRP Publications