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Personal Relationship At-Work Harassment Results in Compensable Claim

Happy Friday, dear readers!

Once, many years ago, your humble blogger was at a diner in San Francisco (Mel’s Drive In, to be precise).  When my lady friend went to use the restroom, Bill Murray, the famed actor, came out of nowhere and walked right up to my table.  He took a French Fry from my plate and, as I stared at him in shock, he said “no one will ever believe you” and walked out of Mel’s before my lady friend returned.

To this day, no one believes this story, proving Bill Murray to be a man of both wisdom and action.  Sometimes, in the bitter watches of the night, I myself doubt if this really happened.  Actually, as I write this, I’m growing more and more certain that this didn’t happen.

Anyways, I have a story for you that is a bit more believable – the Court of Appeal recently denied review in the case of Sanchez v. City of Santa Barbara.  Applicant claimed a psyche injury resulting from workplace harassment (the growing trend is to call this bullying) by a co-worker with whom applicant had a long-standing and personal relationship.

Defendant argued that the workplace was merely a stage for a personal dispute, and that this harassment, though occurring geographically at work, was not an actual event of employment.

By contrast, applicant argued that this was harassment at work to the point that the campaign of harassment qualified as “actual events of employment” as contemplated by Labor Code section 3208.3(b)(1).  The QME found that 20% of the cause was “non-industrial stressor” while the remaining 80% was due to harassment by the co-worker.

The WCJ concluded that applicant’s complaints did not meet the threshold of AOE/COE and ordered that she take nothing.  However, the WCAB granted reconsideration, reasoning that management and workplace forces had become so integrated into the personal dispute, as to make the dispute work-related.  Apparently, the motivation to harass applicant was also based on the perception that she had spread rumors about the alleged harasser at work.

The Court of Appeal denied review.

Ok, so we have here a case where a purely personal relationship resulting in harassment has become compensable because (1) it occurred at work; (2) it all started because one party believed the other party spread rumors at work; and (3) management became involved in attempting to mediate and stop the harassment.

I’m starting to think that maybe Bill Murray did take one of my French Fries.

If there’s a line here your humble blogger is having a hard time finding it, because all of this still looks personal to me.  If an employee is injured at work by a violent spouse who shows up at the workplace, does the injury become industrial if the employer renders first aid?  If the violent spouse showed up at work because of the perception that the victim was spreading rumors about him or her at work, does that make this an industrial claim?

Your humble blogger respectfully submits that all of the facts that make this purely personal dispute industrial go back to the workplace being the stage for a personal dispute, which should have been found non-compensable.

I know it is shocking to my readers, and totally uncharacteristic of my cold, unfeeling, defense-attorney heart, but I think the WCJ’s take-nothing should have been allowed to stand.  If nothing else – if the facts are teetering on a fence, the WCJ was in the best position to receive witness testimony, observe witness demeanor, and thereby get a real understanding of whether, as this was all happening, the parties really perceived this as purely personal or somehow related to work.

Have a good weekend!

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