Sheppard v. Virginia Tech, VWC File No. 238-68-58 (January 27, 2010)

The Commission reversed the decision of the deputy commissioner which found the employer responsible for the Claimant’s psychiatric treatment and held that his psychiatric illness was not caused by his work.

Claimant was employed as a housekeeping manager for Virginia Tech. On February 13, 2008, one of his subordinates filed a complaint against him alleging he tolerated sexual harassment of her by other supervisors. Two days later, Claimant suffered an episode of severe suicidal depression and was admitted into the hospital.

Claimant testified that this psychotic episode was work-related and attacked his character and credentials. He testified that the attack by the subordinate was personal and that she was getting back at him for passing her up for a promotion. An investigation on the complaint was conducted and the allegations against the Claimant were eventually dismissed. Despite this, Claimant continued experiencing depressive symptoms, for which he sought psychiatric treatment, and developed chest pains and anxiety. Claimant sought an award of medical treatment and a reinstatement of his sick leave.

The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission does not have jurisdiction over claims for purely psychological problems caused by conflicts over supervisory decisions, workplace conditions or employer policies, as they do not constitute an injury by accident. If the claimant’s psychological condition is an ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed, the criteria of Code § 65.2-401 are applicable. He must show by clear and convincing evidence that his condition arose out of and in the course of the employment, that it did not result from causes outside the employment, and that it was characteristic of and peculiar to the employment.

In reversing the deputy commissioner, the Commission found that the claimant had not proven a compensable occupational disease or ordinary disease of life. It was further noted that the work-place conflict was between Claimant and his employee and involved his personal actions and therefore the psychotic episode was not caused by his work and non-compensable.

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