In every job, there is a certain amount of stress involved. But what if your job-related stress impedes your ability to work?
In some cases, psychological injury stemming from job-related stress can be compensable under workers’ compensation statutes.
That’s what was reflected in the case of Hart v. Federal Express Corp., recently before the Connecticut Supreme Court.
According to court records, the claimant had been a long-time employee of a courier service, working as a delivery truck driver. By all accounts, he had been a stellar, hard-working employee who seemed to enjoy his work. Every day, he would start his shift by inspecting his truck. Then he would inventory the various packages, track his route, and load up the packages before driving out with them for delivery.
It was not uncommon for him to work 1o- or even 12-hour days. Despite this, he had a rigorous fitness routine and woke at 4 a.m. every morning to head to the gym to work out before his shift. He was healthy and had no ailments to speak of.
But then in early 2009, new management took over at his location. This was when everything changed.
His per-day delivery load increased. He was suddenly required to deliver each package within a five-minute span – that included driving time. He informed management that this was infeasible, but was told there was nothing that could be done.
The worker who once had a near-perfect employment record was suddenly being cited for not getting his deliveries to their location on time. He tried talking to management about it on several other occasions but was told there was nothing that could be done about the newly-set delivery times. He not only no longer had time to take his half-hour lunch break, but now he also had no time even for bathroom breaks.
One day, at the close of a long shift, he realized after fueling up his truck and bringing it back to the lot that he hadn’t put the gas cap on the fuel tank. Gas had leaked onto the ground as a result. He called his supervisor to report the spill, and the response was to call the fire department, police department, and hazmat team. When the plaintiff argued this was an overreaction, he was reprimanded.
He received another reprimand for taking more than his scheduled time off. His mother had died, and he took five days off, rather than the allotted three days of bereavement time the company offered.
A couple months later, nothing seemed to be improving. He showed up for his shift and realized after taking inventory that there was no way he could deliver all packages on time. He was going to have to deliver a single package every four minutes. He informed his supervisor and asked for help from another driver but was told that could not be arranged. It went downhill from there. One customer wasn’t present to sign. Another customer was unhappy with where he left the package. He was called back to the location where the first customer hadn’t been present. Then he got stuck in traffic. It was a hot day and his truck had no air conditioning. He’d had no bathroom break and was very thirsty. His boss had reprimanded him over the phone.
He started to feel his heart flutter. He felt woozy. But he kept driving. He didn’t want to get in any more trouble. But after a while, he felt that he couldn’t go on. Even so, he pulled into a fire station, arranged for another driver to pick up the rest of his deliveries, and only then sought medical treatment.
He was diagnosed with heart trouble related to stress, and also severe dehydration. He was subsequently ordered not to return to work.
When he sought workers’ compensation benefits, his employer argued that his psychological injuries were not compensable.
The commission – and later the state supreme court – disagreed. He was awarded total incapacity benefits for 46 weeks.
On appeal, the employer argued that this was erroneous or, in the alternative, the award was excessive. However, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-920-4708 .