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October 26, 2010
Workers’ Comp Appeal Over Computer Crashing

When an employee files a workers’ compensation claim for mental stress caused by being on call 24/7 and having to deal with his computer crashing more than once, will he succeed? The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court recently reviewed a case raising that issue. Its decision illustrates some of the principles behind the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation laws.

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What happened. “John” worked for Daily’s Juice as a computer technician. He was on call 24/7 and was required by the company to wear a beeper at all times. One day, when John’s computer crashed, he took it home to fix it and received a call from his supervisor which he claims made him very upset. After returning to work, his computer crashed a second time. John left work at that time, only to return to work one last day.

John filed a workers’ compensation claim against the company in June 2005 claiming that stress from abnormal working conditions caused “a work-related aggravation” of a preexisting “major depressive disorder.” A workers’ compensation judge granted John’s claim petition for workers’ compensation benefits. Daily’s Juice appealed the judge’s decision to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. The Board reversed the judge’s decision, stating that John had not shown that abnormal working conditions existed that caused his mental condition. John then appealed to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

What the court said. The court held that John failed to show his working conditions were abnormal. Wearing a beeper was not considered abnormal. Also, having to deal with a crashing computer was within the normal job requirements of a computer technician. “This Court cannot find relevant evidence to support the conclusion that Claimant’s work environment created abnormal working conditions, and that the conditions were objective and not merely perceived or imagined,” the court wrote. DeSalvo v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, No. 488 C.D. 2010 (8/18/10).

Point to remember: Appeals from decisions of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation may be made within 20 days to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. Further appeals are to the state court system. Employers may preserve their right to contest a claim by sending a notice of temporary compensation to the employee with the first payment. This notice is intended to prompt the employee to file a formal claim for benefits. The employer may continue paying temporary benefits for up to 6 weeks without affecting its right to contest the claim.

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