Is Stress a Ticking Time Bomb in Your Company?

There seem to be very few constants in modern life; but one thing we’re able to count on is that stress is a normal part of our world.  It permeates almost every part of our lives and sometimes the best we can hope for is to keep it under control.

Finding ways to keep stress under control is a major priority for business owners when they are developing their Human Resources policies.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) have researched how much time is lost at the workplace due to employees missing work to deal with stress and anxiety disorders.

When compared with all nonfatal injury and illness cases, the anxiety, stress, and neurotic disorder cases involved a higher percentage of long-term work loss.  In 2001, 42.1% of these cases involved 31 or more days away from work, with the average number of days lost totaling 25.  Compare that to the average number of days lost for all other nonfatal injury and illness cases, which was 6.

There is also the issue of compensation claims that are filed for stress-related illnesses. An employee cannot sue in court for these types of claims if the stress is the result of the ordinary course of work.  However, if the employee can prove that the stress is the result of on the job harassment or discrimination, they can then pursue that claim in court.

If an employee is filing a stress claim that cannot be litigated, they have two options.  If they are seeking a monetary award, they file through workers’ compensation.  In this instance, they must prove that the stress has risen to a level, which makes it impossible for them to continue to work.

If they are merely seeking unpaid leave, they file under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Under this statute, they must prove that the level of stress is high enough to meet the definition of a medical condition as outlined in the Family Medical Leave Act.  This may or may not be the way it is defined by the American Medical Association.  If they prove their case, they are entitled to three months leave.  Keep in mind that your company must have 50 or more employees for one of your staff members to file under the FMLA.

For companies with 15 to 49 employees, workers can file stress claims under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  They can be awarded leave time sometimes over and above what FMLA provides.  However, historically the courts have not been welcoming of stress-related claims filed under the ADA unless the employee can prove discrimination.

What can you as an employer do to lessen the number of stress-related claims?  Begin by making the fair treatment of employees at every level a cornerstone of your Human Resources policy.  You should also be sure that your Human Resources Department has an open-door policy when it comes to employee grievances.  This means that employees can file complaints or grievances against any member of the staff without fear of retribution.  Finally, consider instituting an employee counseling program managed through your health insurance carrier.

The importance of any steps you take to alleviate workplace stress will be of special importance if you are hit with a stress-related claim.  Documentation is key to winning such a case.  The other important factor in your success is turning over the claim to your workers’ compensation carrier in a timely manner to give them as much time as possible to investigate the legitimacy of the claim.

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