The Board recently held that a change in shift is a legitimate personnel action that does not give rise to a compensable claim.
The claimant worked for the employer as a painter in its sign shop for almost 30 years, working the first shift. The sign shop eventually closed, and the claimant was reassigned to painting ships in the shipyard. Soon thereafter, he was moved to the second shift. In his deposition, “the claimant stated he was not happy with the shift change. He worried about getting home because he did not drive and the bus did not run that late, so he had to hire someone to drive him home. Additionally, his sleep pattern was affected, and he could not concentrate on his work.” One day, the claimant went to the hospital believing that he had an anxiety attack. In fact, he was diagnosed with a stroke. After his discharge, the claimant received treatment for stroke-related issues, depression, and anxiety. He never returned to work. The claimant filed a claim alleging work-related depression, anxiety and strokes.
The Board observed that the claimant proved a “harm,” including altered mental status and a stroke. The Board then had to determine whether conditions at work caused the harm. According to the Board, the claimant (through his estate) only alleged the change from the first to the second shift as the cause of the harm. However, the Board held that the claimant’s “shift change does not constitute a ‘working condition’ to which the Section 20(a) presumption applies. Rather, as the administrative law judge properly found, the shift change was a ‘legitimate personnel action’ that cannot result in a compensable injury.”
In its analysis, the Board recalled that a psychological injury may be compensable, even if it results from only minimal stress. The psychological injury may be compensable if it results from a work-related accident or conditions at work, but not if it results from a “legitimate personnel action.” Citing an earlier case, the Board explained that a “legitimate personnel action or termination is not the type of activity intended to give rise to a worker’s compensation claim. To hold otherwise would unfairly hinder employer in making legitimate personnel decisions and in conducting its business. Employer must be able to make decisions regarding layoffs without the concern that it will involve workmen’s compensation remedies.”
The Board specifically rejected an argument from the claimant that a “legitimate personnel action” must result in the termination of the employee. The claimant seemed to suggest that because he continued working after the employer changed his shift, he continued to endure working conditions that brought about his stress and stroke. In rejecting this argument, the Board explained that “there are other personnel decisions an employer must make to run its business, and not all involve terminations.” Finally, the Board noted that cumulative stress from general working conditions could be compensable. However, because the claimant alleged that his stress resulted solely from the shift change, which was a legitimate personnel decision, the Board affirmed that his claim was not compensable.
Raiford v. Huntington Ingalls Industries, Inc., BRB No. 15-0003 (8/24/15)
© 2018 Ira J. Rosenzweig