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Friday, July 01, 2011

Mental stress and workers' compensation


Mental stress and workers' compensation
Vaupell v Buffalo City School District, 288 A.D.2d 510

The provisions set out in Section 2(7) of the Workers' Compensation Law [WCL] was a critical factor in resolving the appeal filed by Naomi Vaupell challenging the Workers' Compensation Board's denying her additional benefits following her termination by the Buffalo City School District.

WCL Section 2(7) specifically excludes from compensation “an injury which is solely mental and is based on work related stress if such mental injury is a direct consequence of a lawful personnel decision involving a disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, demotion, or termination taken in good faith by the employer.”

Naomi Vaupell had suffered a head laceration and concussion in September 1993 while working as a special education teacher for the Buffalo City School District. She filed for and received workers' compensation benefits for a consequential psychiatric condition. In September 1994, Vaupell returned to work with no restrictions imposed by her treating psychiatrist and her Workers' Compensation case was closed.

In September 1995, Vaupell was denied tenure and terminated from her position based upon her poor job performance. She then filed for additional workers' compensation benefits alleging that her ineffectiveness as a teacher and termination were causally related to her previously compensable psychiatric condition.

A Workers' Compensation Administrative Law Judge denied Vaupell's claim upon finding that any recurrence of her stress-related symptoms was due to her poor performance evaluations. The Workers' Compensation Board affirmed this decision and Vaupell appealed its ruling.

The Appellate Division dismissed Vaupell's appeal, noting that “[s]ince the Board decided only the question of whether claimant's inability to perform her job and her resulting termination were causally related to her 1993 injury, this Court's review is limited to determining whether substantial evidence supports the Board's conclusion that claimant's loss of employment was solely related to the employer's denial of tenure and her poor work performance,” thus triggering the provisions of WCL Section 2(7).

The decision notes that Vaupell testified that she was emotionally devastated when she received negative evaluations and the letter of dismissal. Accordingly, said the court, “the Board's conclusion that Vaupell's symptoms of stress were related to poor work evaluations rather than her original compensable injury is supported by the record.”

As the evidence presented at the Workers' Compensation hearing established that Vaupell had been evaluated as unsatisfactory in the performance of her teaching duties prior to, as well as after, her injury and the lack of any evidence in the record suggesting that the employer acted in bad faith in making the negative evaluations or denying Vaupell tenure, the Appellate Division declined to disturb the Board's decision.

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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