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Mental Stress Claims: Time for the Higher Standard to Go?

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Workplace stress is unavoidable. From continual deadlines to unreasonable employers to difficult co-workers, most everyone experiences levels of stress and frustration in their daily job. What if the "normal" situation escalates? An incessant, berating boss. A direction to engage in unethical or fraudulent activities. Witnessing a crime-or even a death-on the job. Any of these events could cause significant psychological difficulties, medical treatment, and lengthy work absences. Is worker's compensation available?

Wisconsin does recognize these non-traumatic mental stress claims (so-called "mental-mental" claims), although they are subjected to a higher standard than physical work injuries. (Note: psychological conditions arising from an underlying physical workplace injury-"physical-mental" claims-are handled differently). Under the rules established by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, "mental-mental" claims are subjected to an "extraordinary stress" test for compensability:

mental injury non-traumatically caused must have resulted from a situation of greater dimensions than the day-to-day emotional strain and tension which all employees must experience. Only if the fortuitous event unexpected and unforeseen [the accident or accidental result] can be said to be so out of the ordinary from the countless emotional strains and differences that employees encounter daily without serious mental injury will liability ... be found. (School Dist. No. 1, Village of Brown Deer v. DILHR, 62 Wis. 2d 370, 215 N.W.2d 373 (1974)).

Despite litigation and statutory changes over the years, the School District No. 1 "extraordinary stress" standard remains the governing law of the land. One of the main underpinnings for the higher standard was the Court's hesitancy in granting compensation for mental injuries. The restrictive standard reflected the Court's worry that Continue reading →

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Domer Law, S.C.
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