Case name: Veeder v. New York State Police Department, et al., No. 511128 (N.Y. App. Div. 07/14/11).
The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division reversed the Workers' Compensation Board's ruling that a scientist's suicide did not arise out of and in the course of his employment.
What it means: In New York, mental injuries that stem from an employer's lawful and good-faith personnel decisions involving a disciplinary action or work evaluation are not compensable.
Summary: An audit uncovered an inconsistency in fiber proficiency tests performed by a forensic scientist for a police department. After an investigation, the scientist advised the department that he skipped a step of the test procedure and was noncompliant in performing the test. The department initiated a "nonconforming work inquiry." The scientist stopped going to work and committed suicide. The scientist's wife sought death benefits, claiming that his suicide resulted from his depressive state caused by improper actions taken by the department during the investigation. The Workers' Compensation Board barred the claim, concluding that the department's actions were made in good faith and the result of a personnel decision following an investigation and potential disciplinary action. The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division reversed the board's ruling that the scientist's suicide did not arise out of and in the course of his employment.
In New York, a solely mental injury based on workplace stress is not covered under workers' compensation if it is a direct consequence of a lawful personnel decision. The court said that the psychiatric evidence and suicide letters showed that the suicide was the product of the depression and stress he experienced from the department's inquiry. The court found that the department's actions were not undertaken in a disciplinary action. The investigation served a fact finding, rather than a disciplinary purpose.
Since the board did not consider whether the department's actions were an evaluation of the scientist's work or whether the stress the scientist experienced was greater than that normally encountered in the work environment, the court sent the case back to the board.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum
September 8, 2011
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