Normal Work Stressors Are Not a Compensable Mental Claim

In James, the claimant worked as a school bus driver from May 2018 to September 2019. After her employment ended, the claimant filed a claim for benefits based on a “hostile, stressful work environment” that she claimed built up over time due to a lack of support. The claimant had been a school bus driver for several decades and previously filed two other claims for a stressful work environment against other employers. Neither claim was found compensable.

At hearing, evidence showed that Dr. Parker diagnosed the claimant with paranoid personality traits. Dr. Parker stated that people with this condition “consider their views that others are trying to harm them in some ways as incontrovertible facts and they have essentially … little or no insight into the problematic nature of their thinking.” The claimant identified eight instances that caused her stress:

  1. The claimant’s first trainer and mentor refused to work with her delaying her training;
  2. The claimant drove past a destination and had to perform a U-turn. The clamant did not report this as required;
  3. The claimant and another driver had a “face-off” causing a traffic jam and resulting in a reported avoidable traffic jam;
  4. A check engine light came on and resulted in her being assigned to a different bus;
  5. The claimant was assigned a bus with faulty air conditioning resulting in heat exhaustion and an accepted work comp claim;
  6. The claimant was assigned a bus to transport students with special needs and an assistant refused to work with the claimant and the claimant refused to follow instructions to do the assistant’s duties along with her own;
  7. The claimant was selected to drive for a summer field trip but she did not drive when the bus was not needed;
  8. For the 2019-2020 school year, the claimant was assigned a regular route instead of the special needs route that she had drove the year before.

A.R.S. § 23-1043.01(B), states that “A mental injury, illness or condition shall not be considered a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment and is not compensable pursuant to this chapter unless some unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress related to the employment or some physical injury related to the employment was a substantial contributing cause of the mental injury, illness or condition.”

After reviewing the evidence, the ALJ found that the claimant was not targeted by the employer for persecution and much of the stress was due to a shortage of resources and people. The ALJ found that the stress the claimant experienced was not unexpected, unusual, or extraordinary and did not cause or contribute to a mental injury. The claimant’s claim was denied. The claimant appealed and the Arizona Court of Appeals (the Court) affirmed the ALJ’s Order.

The Court stated that the Arizona Supreme Court recently discussed cases in which claims of gradual work-related stress build-up, stating that “an employee’s mental injuries are generally non-compensable because ‘there is neither an articulable work-related event nor an increase in stressful activity,’ but rather ‘the resulting disability is caused by “gradual emotional stress” related’ to the common stresses and strains of the work regimen.” See France v. Indus. Comm’n, 250 Ariz. 487 (2021).

The Court held that the ALJ correctly concluded that the claimant failed to show the stressors she experienced were objectively “unexpected, unusual, or extraordinary” but were instead, a key part of driving a school bus for a large school district in the Arizona desert climate.

James v. Indus. Comm’n of Ariz., 2021 WL 3163813 (July 27, 2021).

Want to know more? Contact Ilene Feldmeier at ifeldmeier@pollartmiller.com or 877-259-5693.

2021-12-30T09:16:31-07:00