Here’s what happened
An Salem, MA city employee sustained a disabling heart attack at home one hour after she was told that her employment position would be eliminated in the city’s upcoming budget process. She learned of the budget cuts at 3:20 pm, was allowed to go home because she was upset, and suffered the attack at approximately 4:00 pm. She sought disability benefits as she was unable to return to work. The city contended that the former employee was ineligible for benefits under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 152, § 1(7A), of the Massachusetts workers’ compensation statute, as she suffered an emotional disability as a result of a personnel action. Massachusetts, like a number of states, has a statute limiting compensability of claims involving bona fide personnel actions. She died sometime after filing her original claim.
Can the former employee’s estate nevertheless prevail?
Here’s what the court decided
In Retirement Board of Salem v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Bd., 2009 Mass. LEXIS 28 (February 24, 2009), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held the “personnel action” exception applied only to emotional or mental disabilities, that the employee’s heart attack, though caused by the emotional stress of learning of her termination, resulted in a physical disability. The heart attack was “sustained” during her conversation with her supervisor in that the conversation caused the emotional stress which, within an hour, caused the debilitating heart attack. The employee’s compliance with her supervisor’s direction to speak with him about her job status qualified as being actively engaged in the performance of her duties.
See generally Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law § 56.04.
Tom Robinson, J.D. is the primary upkeep writer for Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law (LexisNexis) and Larson’s Workers’ Compensation, Desk Edition (LexisNexis). He is a contributing writer for California Compensation Cases (LexisNexis) and Benefits Review Board – Longshore Reporter(LexisNexis), and is a contributing author to New York Workers’ Compensation Handbook(LexisNexis).
Attorney Robinson is an authority in the area of workers’ compensation and we are happy to have him as a Guest Contributor Tom can be reached at: email@example.com.
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