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May 20, 2002
Workers' Comp Claims for Stress on the Rise
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Today reports that employees are demanding workers' compensation for mental and physical ills they say are triggered by on-the-job stress.

The newspaper cites this evidence:

- In New York, nearly a third of the 6,000 workers' compensation claims related to the World Trade Center attack involve some component of stress.

- Virginia paramedic Randall Mottram sought workers' compensation after doctors said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of his job experiences. The Virginia Supreme Court this year determined that he was eligible for the benefits.

- The Illinois Supreme Court ruled this year that high school teacher Darwin Baggett was eligible for workers' comp benefits because the heart attack she suffered was triggered by workplace stress. Baggett has since died.

"People are becoming more aware of what can happen with stress," says Robert Howerton, a lawyer in Marion, Ill., who represented the Baggett family.

Critics tell USA Today that mental stress rarely meets the criteria of an occupational injury, and employers can face bogus claims. "There may be a lot of tension in the world, but that doesn't mean it's caused by the workplace," says Joe Fleming, a labor and employment lawyer in Miami.

But others tell the newspaper that increased stress is affecting the workplace.

"Whenever you have a crisis like Sept. 11, stress is going to be more exacerbated," says Richard Chaifetz, CEO of employee assistance provider ComPsych, based in Chicago.

Nearly half of Americans grappled with stress after Sept. 11, according to a study by non-profit research group Rand.

Another source of stress is workloads, which are likely remain heavy: Only 21% of companies plan to add employees this year, and 20% expect to make more cuts, according to career firm Meridian Resources.

"We've seen a great deal of stress," says Doug Benns, CEO of RecTech, a technical firm based in Cleveland that works with associations.

To read the USA Today article, click here.
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