Worker’s claim for stress-related mental disorder is denied

The Oregon Court of Appeals last week upheld a ruling that a mental disorder claim by a worker alleging emotional and psychological abuse was not compensable.

In April 2017, Audrey King, a software validation engineer at UST Global, and 40 other employees were assigned to a project described as “fast-paced, hectic, chaotic and stressful,” according to documents in In the matter of compensation for Audrey J. King, filed with the Oregon Court of Appeals in Salem.

Ms King and her supervisor, identified as ‘Dash’, began having difficulties soon after they began working on the project together, Ms King said, saying she began experiencing symptoms of mental illness at mid-May 2017.

Ms King began seeing a clinical psychologist the following month due to what she described as “an extremely stressful work situation” and symptoms including hair loss and an inability to sleep, documents show. The clinical psychologist determined that Ms King suffered from ‘adjustment disorder with anxiety’ due to a ‘hostile and abnormal work environment’.

Ms. King was terminated on August 25, 2017 due to a reduction in staff. Three days later, she filed a workers’ compensation claim that was denied by an administrative judge and the state Workers’ Compensation Board.

On appeal, Ms King submitted the psychologist’s view that her ‘hostile and abnormal work environment’ was the cause of her mental disorder, citing causative factors including lack of appropriate work space, changing guidelines and management’s inconsistencies, Dash’s apparent attempts to undermine Ms. King and the cases where the supervisor reprimanded her. Several colleagues testified that Dash did not respect or treat Ms. King well.

A second psychologist also diagnosed Ms King with adjustment disorder with anxiety, but opined that if the first psychologist had neglected her prescription weight-loss medication, it would have impaired her ability to assess in how much of her weight loss was attributable to job stress. The second psychologist further attributed more of Ms King’s distress to “a tendency to react strongly to conflict and stress”.

The Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 1 that the administrative judge and the Workers’ Compensation Board correctly concluded that the claim lacked proper evidence of medical causation.

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