Employment Law Journal

Mental Stress From Threatened Disciplinary Action Found Non-Compensable

By Bruce Voss

An employee’s claimed mental stress from threatened disciplinary action was not compensable under Hawaii’s workers compensation laws, the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals has ruled.

In Kahawaiolaa v. United Airlines, Inc., the employee (a flight attendant) claimed he was injured when he changed a light bulb at his mother’s house while on a layover. The employee claimed that at the time of the accident he was suffering from work-related mental stress as a result of having been notified of pending disciplinary action against him and the stress caused him to black out while changing a lightbulb, fall, and break his clavicle.

The Court firmly rejected the employee’s claim: “Kahawaiolaa’s claim for mental stress was based on threatened disciplinary action regarding a confrontation he had with a co-worker over comments the co-worker allegedly made to Kahawaiolaa’s girlfriend about Kahawaiolaa. The claim was not compensable because it did not arise “out of and in the course of” Kahawaiolaa’s employment. . . . Because the claim for mental stress was not compensable, the claim for a broken clavicle was not compensable.”

The Court’ matter-of-fact, decisive ruling shows a common-sense interpretation of Hawaii workers’ compensation laws.

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