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THE GROWTH OF EMPLOYMENT STRESS CLAIMS:
WORKERS' COMPENSATION, DISCRIMINATION, HARASSMENT AND ACCOMMODATION PROBLEMS

Albert M. Drukteinis, M.D., J.D.

INTRODUCTION
part 1 of 5

Stress related illness is an increasing problem in the work place. A recent Gallup Poll of 201 U.S. corporations revealed the extent of this problem, showing significant percentages of the work force affected by disorders ranging from fatigue and difficulty concentrating, to substance abuse problems, to actual mental illness. In these companies, nearly 60% of all managers felt that stress related illness was pervasive among their workers and decreased productivity at an estimated cost of 16 days of sick leave and $8,000.00 per person per year.

Among stress related illnesses, depression or depressive disorders are estimated alone to cost the American work place a staggering 43 billion dollars per year, including the cost for absenteeism, lost productivity, treatment and rehabilitation, and loss of earnings from accidents and suicide. In addition, work place violence has increased dramatically in the last fifteen years with homicide accounting for 17% of all occupational fatalities. Furthermore, claims of physical and sexual assault, verbal threats or intimidation, and harassment have risen at alarming rates. In conjunction with these claims, the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder has emerged as validation of the harm suffered, and is probably one of the most popular diagnoses in litigation today. Finally, these stress related illnesses do not even begin to take into account physical disabilities such as low-back pain or repetitive motion injury which can have strong psychological and psycho social influences.

While it is clear that stress related illness will affect a worker's productivity and so is a concern to the employer, a number of other questions need to be answered which are common to all industrial stress claims: Is the stress related illness caused by employment or merely incidental to it? What conditions of employment give rise to stress related illness? What special obligations does a stress related illness create for the employer? How do we define what stress related illness really is? How do we measure impairment and/or disability?

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