Enterprise Software

Is workplace stress a workers' comp issue?


We've all heard of the efforts by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) toward protecting the safety and health of America's workers. I think they do a bang-up job if you're dealing with environments where hexavalent chromium is an issue, or if there's a chance you could get hit in the head by an anvil. But one of the most pressing dangers facing today's workers, and one that is not as clear-cut as a falling anvil, is the threat to employee's physical and mental health due to workplace stress.

Although the incidences of workers' compensations stress claims are way up in the U.S. and the EU (with some companies experiencing massive workers' compensation payouts), it's still very difficult to define, identify, and reduce psychosocial risk in the workplace.

The most widely accepted definition of workplace stress is the one published by the US National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety:

"Job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury."

It's a complicated issue to be sure. You don't want the definition to be so broad that a net admin can sue a CIO just because he gets on his nerves. (I lost all faith in the role of common sense in lawsuits when I read about the woman who sued a liquor manufacturer because she consumed a fifth of whiskey every day during her pregnancy and her child was born with birth defects.)

But what if an unreasonable work culture manifests itself in an employee's chronic stomach problems? Legally, you would have to prove the connection. Morally, a company really only has to listen and try to remedy the situation. Some companies don't do this until the problem is more widespread and there is a noticeable drop in productivity or increase in turnover that then affects the bottom line.

I believe companies should take a more proactive approach in dealing with workplace stressors, and that means paying attention to how managers manage and taking a look at organizational culture. Of course, that's not saying that all of the responsibility should fall on the company. After all, in theory, a worker has the free will to walk away from a job that is psychologically detrimental. But in practice, with today's job outlook and the state of people's personal financial situations, that's not always an option.

What do you think? Do you think work-related psychological stress is a legitimate claim or just a catalyst for unfounded lawsuits?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

15 comments
ray1944
ray1944

I have worked in auto sales for this company for over 20 years, I have been making good money, this year the management has been telling other employees to stay away from me because I am a bad influence, I was told by another employee that he was told to keep clear of me because the owner has a hard on for me. I have had income taken away justified by the owner saying he makes the rules. I am basically being isolated from the sales crew. I have had a heart attack at work a few years back, I just don't want to quit which is what I think they want me to do. I don't know what to do?

mtcooper5
mtcooper5

Yes stress can and does come from poor management. The owner of our company is an attorney that told a female employee that she couldn't be in charge of Marketing because she was a girl. When she said excuse me, he tried to cover it up by saying she wasn't tall and therefore not impressive enough. The man that the owner put in charge was sitting next to her and amazing enough is shorter than her. The same owner has denied employees their earned vacation. Also he has made agreements with sales staff saying he would give a vacation cruise if they sold a certain amount. When they reached the goal that was set the owner said show me were it is in writing, or give me an email stating I would do that. This is just some of the unbelievable events that happen with this owner. What do you think?

silver1bullit
silver1bullit

I am currently experienceing eratic heart beats and palpations that I beleive are directly related to the stress I experience daily. This stress is from working for a company that basicly operates in a constant crisis mode due to poor manegment of projects. I have filed a first report of injury claim due to being taken to an Emergency Room after a severe attack of these at work. From what I understand workers comp does not genearlly accept these as work place injuries. From experienceing the workplace stress and the resulting affects on me and some co-workers there is know doubt in my mind stress will kill you. I would appreciate any feedback to this. If i could get out I would but the economy is pretty bad.

havasufem
havasufem

I have been on Short Term Disability for over 2 months now due to mental health issues. The majority of my stress was work related. I felt my job was in jeopardy for the first time in 30+ years! After the "straw that broke the camels back" I started going to a Therapist and a Psychiatrist (in a small town BTW) I was told by each professional that they had seen or are seeing several people from the bank I work for and they all seemed to be complaining about the same stressors I was. My Therapist referred to it as a sick system. It took me a long time before I even thought about what had caused my "breakdown" and why I was where I was. One day I was calling my HR department to report some news on my leave and the automated options all of a sudden smacked me in the face! "Is this a Workman?s Comp issue or a short term disability issue"?!?!?!? Well WOW what a powerful and worthy question! Yes I have some underlying issues that have been a contributing factor to my added stress in both my personal and business life; however, in the 2 months I have been off they have fired 3 people that "I" know of out of a branch staff of only 20! They are literally down to 1 person where they should have 6! We had a 23 year old that was on a short leave because of heart problems related to work! Shortly after she returned she was fired on some unrelated issue! Yeah right! Funny thing is, I was a manager who reported to the Manager who drives everyone to therapy and she is the very one who "taught" me to "manage someone out". Like get rid of them if for whatever reason you feel they will not be a good fit! Well gosh I wonder why I worry about my job security! Anyway, sorry for the rambling, my point is; there is obviously a tremendous number of people out there that make a habit out of screwing the system and/or Government every chance they get and unfortunately they are the ones who make it nearly impossible for us honest people to get the benefits they rightfully deserve. I have never nor do I ever plan on being on disability leave again, but I must say it was the most humiliating and stressful thing I have had to do in recent years, and not for the obvious reasons! Here I am off because I snapped, had a breakdown, or whatever you want to call it and they have me jumping through endless hoops just to get paid and kept me at least 2 weeks behind in my pay the whole time. Almost 1/2 of my therapy sessions where used to fill out their required paperwork! How are you supposed to even get the help you need???? Hello!?!?!? Do they really think this could be helping your situation???? Bottom line is a lot of us work from paycheck to paycheck or at least close to it and when the unthinkable happens, like you totally freaking out because you just can't take it anymore; you are forced to fight for benefits you supposedly have or you?re left with no pay at all! All of which, I might add, DO NOT help your mental state! Some careers are stressful and some companies are even worse and when a huge company like I work for is blatantly pushing their employees to their limit, they should be held responsible! PERIOD! You can only push someone so far before they fall! And when they do fall because you pushed them, you just say "oh well" on to the next "victim". Bull! How many people do these employers have to stomp on before they are liable???? They have high priced people to fight unemployment claims; who do the former employees have to fight for them? I only know this because of being in Management for the same company I am speaking about not from personal experience. Add living in a right to work state and you basically just have to bend over and take it! Pretty sad when you think about it! It sucks being at the mercy of a sick system and an even sicker company! One last thing that really ticks me off is I have never IN MY LIFE even been reprimanded at work, until this job! It really makes me mad that their sick system and even sicker Managers made it impossible for me to ever say that again! No matter what they say, they don?t care about their employees or their customers!

DanLM
DanLM

Does that count? Actualy, that's the only case I can think of that I would consider legitimate. Me, I just took my retirement and told them see ya. No hard feelings, but I can do better. Dan

michael.mulvihill
michael.mulvihill

Some people are just not cut out for some jobs. If you can't handle a certain facet of a job then you need to look for a new career. Someone who is smart enough to have any length of an IT career should have no problem finding work elsewhere in a less stressful environment.

tecchiemail
tecchiemail

I just found out a guy I trained a year ago is making close to $10,000 more than me. Talk about STRESS!

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

that the conditions are going to be defined by politicians, not doctors!

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

I believe that some recourse is needed for employees that have real issues. I used to work for a small software company. When I started I loved the place but then the VP pushed the President out of the company and brought his wife in as COO and HR. They made the envirionment so stressful. I noticed that I started getting a severe pain in my shoulder that would radiate down my arm to the point my fingers would be numb at times. I realized it was the job when after a few months of this we had several days off and the pain went away but returned as soon as we got back to work. I quit that job and now work for a company that treats it's employees well and with respect and have never had another pain since. My previous company has lost all of their senior staff and continue to lose good people and customers. It is a shame because it could have been a very successful company.

santeewelding
santeewelding

That you can't look outward. That leaves only one other direction.

GSG
GSG

You'll have issues with abuse, if stress is considered to be a danger. For example, you'll have someone reprimanded for some offense and then start filing claims in retaliation.

codonoghue
codonoghue

It is good that you're out of the stressful situation but those pains must have had a physical origin. If you haven't already done so, make sure you get checked out for cardiac or vascular effects, as stress is literally a killer, and the effects may not appear until a few years later.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

That kind of workplace stress is sure to be felt by others, and they'll begin to bail out too. One of my previous employers was under so much pressure from corporate people that it got passed onto the rest of the workers, after many left, and they hired new workers who could barely speak english, The crap hit the fan, as the remaining longtime workers were pressured even more to make up for the new hires, they soon bailed too. Corporate was forced to exit that market in order to cut the losses. In my case, I was still collecting severence pay when the business closed. I was collecting from corporate so the payments didn't stop. Whew.

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

I appreciate the concern. I actually did get checked out and physically I am fine. I would have been more concerned if it had been my left arm but it was the right. It was definitely stress.

NOW LEFT TR
NOW LEFT TR

Pain can be caused by Stress. What decodes the pain - the brian. Where does the stress happen - the brian. The brain is dealing with the stress by (Note:in some cases) manafesting a pain. hence when people go to the doctor with a pain (who are stressed), the doctor can't work out the reason.

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