Rolda v. Pitney Bowes, Inc.
A salesman alleged that he had sustained psychiatric injury while employed by Pitney Bowes from September 1995 to September 17, 1997 due to the mistreatment by his supervisor pertaining to the salesman’s clients and territory.
To determine whether a claimed psychiatric injury is compensable or barred, the WCAB laid out a four-step analysis.
The first determination to be made is whether the alleged psychiatric injury involves actual events of employment. This is a factual/legal issue for the WCJ to determine. The second determination is whether the actual events caused the psychiatric injury. This determination requires medical evidence. According to Lab. Code § 3208.3, the causation threshold is either “predominant as to all causes combined” or substantial where the injury resulted from a violent act. “Predominant as to all causes combined,” although not defined in the statute, is defined as work-related causes that constitute greater than 50% of the total causes of the injury, whereas a substantial cause is defined as at least 35% to 40% of the causation from all sources combined. Dep’t of Corr. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd., 76 Cal. App. 4th 810 (1999). The third determination is whether any of the actual events were personnel actions that were lawful, nondiscriminatory and in good faith. This is a factual/legal issue for the WCJ to determine. The fourth determination is whether the lawful, nondiscriminatory, good faith personnel actions were a substantial cause of the psychiatric injury. This determination requires medical evidence.
The WCAB ultimately concluded that the present case did not comply with the four-step analysis necessary to determine the compensability of the salesman’s alleged psychiatric injury and the matter was returned to the trial level for further proceedings.
The ruling in this case serves as a reminder of the availability of the good faith personnel action defense and articulates the factual findings to be made to prevail on this defense. As two of the four steps in the analysis require competent medical evidence, much of the case’s outcome will depend on the doctor’s findings. Therefore, it is imperative that doctors be made aware of the facts regarding the actual events of employment so that they can accurately diagnose the percentages attributable to the causation of the psychiatric injury. Documents that may help the physician and trier of fact in making the required findings of fact may include a transcript of the applicant’s deposition, applicant’s medical history and records, transcripts of witness statements, and other relevant contents enclosed in the applicant’s personnel file as well as any other non-medical information that may bear on non-industrial causation.