What information should be considered when assessing compensability of an Oregon stress claim?
When confronted with a stress claim, it is important to assess all relevant aspects of employment factors, excluded factors, and nonwork related factors in determining compensability. To prove compensability of a stress claim, the worker must show their employment conditions are the major contributing cause of the disorder and must establish each of the following:
The employment conditions producing the mental disorder exist in a real and objective sense;
The employment conditions producing the mental disorder are conditions other than conditions inherent in every working situation or reasonable disciplinary, corrective or job performance evaluation actions by the employer, or cessation of employment or employment decisions attendant on ordinary business or financial cycles. “Generally inherent in every working situation” means those conditions that are usually present in all jobs and not merely in the specific occupation involved. Whitlock v. Klamath County Sch. Dist., 158 Or App 464 (1999); Robert P. Parker, 73 Van Natta 359, 360 (2021).
There is a diagnosis of a mental or emotional disorder which is generally recognized in the medical or psychological community; and
There is clear convincing evidence that the mental disorder arose out of and in the court of employment. To be “clear and convincing,” the truth of the facts asserted must be highly probable. Riley Hill Contractor Inc. v. Tandy Corp., 303 Or 390, 402 (1987); David M. Sinclair, 67 Van Natta 63, 64 (2015). ORS 656.266(1); ORS 656.802(1)-(3).
In the recent Smytherman case, the importance of assessing all relevant factors came into play in determining compensability. Jayden S. Smytherman, 74 Van Natta 602 (2022). In that case, claimant was a lab technician who alleged harassment from a lead worker, increased workload, and a schedule change to night shift resulted in sleeplessness, weight gain, increased blood pressure, and anxiety. Claimant told his providers about alleged harassment he experienced at work but did not tell them about employer disciplinary actions or an EEOC investigation which determined the harassment allegations were unsubstantiated.
Claimant was diagnosed with anxiety, weight gain, and hypertension; taken off work; and referred to therapy. His providers relied on claimant’s reported history to opine his work activities were the major cause of his conditions. An independent examiner examined claimant and reviewed the records. Claimant told the examiner his stress was from the employer’s disciplinary actions and work conditions related to the COVID pandemic. The examiner opined claimant had “work stress” but did not have a psychiatric diagnosis.
The Board held claimant’s providers failed to weigh the work factors, excluded factors (including employer disciplinary action), and non-work related factors in reaching their opinions. Their opinions relied on claimant’s reports alone and they had failed to review employment and EEOC records or to rebut the independent examiner report. As a result, claimant had failed to meet his burden to prove compensability.
When faced with a stress claim, it is important to gather all relevant information from the employer and be sure your medical experts address all factors in their opinions. If you have questions about an Oregon stress claim, please contact me at or (503)412-3101.