According to National Center for Biotechnology Information’s research published in the Journal of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, occupational stress disorder was the fastest growing disease category in the 1990s. This prompted several states to set limits on workers compensation claims for this disease, and a recent court ruling makes New Jersey the latest state to limit claims for occupational stress.
Occupational stress basics
Occupational stress disorders may occur when a person’s demands at work are greater than the person can handle. Some of the factors that may contribute to occupational stress include a hostile or uncomfortable environment, lack of proper training, unhealthy work relationships and demanding duties. It is considered the responsibility of the employer to periodically review workplace conditions and make corrections in areas that may reasonably be foreseen as a cause of occupational stress.
New Jersey Superior Court ruling on occupational stress
On June 26, 2012, the Superior Court of New Jersey ruled that occupational stress can only be claimed in cases where the disability is objectively verified as job-related stress.
The petitioner in this case was Jeanne Knight, who was hired by Audubon Savings Bank in 1990 and promoted to mortgage processor in 1999. She claimed that a combination of factors contributed to occupational stress. These factors included her boss screaming at her, several unjustifiably negative performance reviews and a burdensome workload.
Witnesses called to testify could not corroborate Knight’s claims, and performance reviews submitted as evidence showed that her marks ranged from good to very good. Even though Knight was officially diagnosed with anxiety and was prescribed antianxiety medications, she did not have enough evidence to prove that her condition was caused by her employer. The ruling in this case is significant because it places the burden of proof for occupational stress in the hands of the petitioner, who must produce objectively verified evidence that the disorder was caused by workplace conditions.