Workers’ Compensation Benefits “for Psychological Injuries” Due to Employer’s Legitimate “Disciplinary Action and Reprimands” — or Due to Layoffs?

I’m happy to say that the Ninth Circuit has just said “no,” in Pedroza v. Benefits Review Board, though I’m sorry that it took all this litigation to figure that out.

Harbor workers are entitled to worker’s compensation benefits for a wide range of job-related injuries, including psychological injuries. And this scheme, like worker’s compensation generally, isn’t premised on determining whether the employee was at fault in the accident that led to the injury. (Such a no-fault regime naturally dramatically reduces litigation costs.) But strict liability has its boundaries — the question is for what kinds of injuries the employer is to be strictly liable. In Pedroza, the Court accepted the Benefits Review Board’s MarinoSewell doctrine, under which “psychological injury resulting from a legitimate personnel action” is not compensable. In the process, it also endorsed the Board’s conclusion that “psychological injuries as a result of a layoff” are likewise not compensable, though that particular question wasn’t directly implicated on these facts.

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