NYS Appellate Division Affirms the Workers’ Compensation Board

In Matter of Brittain, the carrier appealed a decision of the Board which affirmed the establishment of a work related accident.

Claimant performed human  resources work for the employer that required her to frequently travel between her office and New York City, and the employer covered her travel and lodging expenses. The Inspector General investigated an anonymous complaint regarding claimant’s travel and determined that she had committed no wrongdoing, but referred the matter to the Comptroller to assess the tax implications of the employer’s travel reimbursement practices . The Comptroller ultimately determined that to correct the employer’s reimbursement practices that violated Internal Revenue Service rules– claimant should be deemed to have earned over $100,000 in additional income as a result of those practices, and that she was responsible for paying back taxes and penalties on that amount. There is no dispute that she incurred a psychic in jury upon learning of the Comptroller’s findings, and she hereafter applied for workers’ compensation benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Board rejected the argument advanced by the employer and It’s workers’ compensation carrier that he r claim was barred by Workers’ Compensation Law §2 (7), and this appeal ensued. The Court affirmed the Board. A workers’ compensation claim for psychic injury stemming from work -related stress is not compensable if it was “a directConsequence of a lawful personnel decision involving a disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, demotion, or termination takin in good faith the employer “(Workers’ Compensation Law § 2 [7]; accord Matter of DePaoli v Great A &P Tea Co.,94 NY2d 3 77, 380 [2000]; see Matter of Brickner v NewYork State Dept. of Trans., 284 AD 2d 82 9, 82 9 [2001], lv denied 98 NY2d601 [2002 ]). Claimant, however, was not accused of wrongdoing by the employer.
Instead, her mental injuries stemmed from the serious financial liabilities she incurred as a result of a review of the employer’s reimbursement practices.  Inasmuch as that audit was not “aimed at” claimant, substantial evidence supports the Board’ s determination that her resulting mental injury was not the direct consequence of a disciplinary action or work evaluation (Matter of DePao v Great A & P Tea Co., 94 NY 2d at 380; see Matte r of Veede r v New York State Police Dept.,86 AD 3d 762, 763-764 [2011]; c f. Matter of Kinney v Prudential Ins. Co., 270 A D2d 781, 782-783 [2000]).
Additionally, we will not disturb the Board’s determination that the stress that claimant experience d was greater than that generally experienced by similarly situated workers in a normal work environment, as that factual finding is supported by substantial evidence (compare Matter of Young v Pentax Precision Instrument Corp., 57AD3d 1323 , 1324 [2008]). The stress from being advised that she was responsible for taxes and penalties on over $100,000 of imputed income due to her employer’s mistaken reimbursement practices, with no wrongdoing on her own part, along with her knowledge that she was no t financially in a position to handle that substantial liability , was not a normal occurrence in the work place and exceeded the typical stress associated with claimant’ s position.

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