Thursday, July 10, 2003

SWMS Case Awarded, But In A Very Narrow Ruling

In G. Zink v. WCAB (Graphic Packaging, Inc.) The Claimant had suffered injuries to his legs, right arm and back in the Vietnam War. He was further diagnosed in 1974 with anxiety neurosis, chronic with depressive features, related to his war experience. This condition rendered him unable to sleep during the night. Through the Vietnam Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 the Claimant got a job as a maintenance mechanic and until the May, 1995 Collective Bargaining Agreement, he was permitted to switch shifts with others so he always worked third shift. When the Claimant could no longer switch shifts, he developed shift work maladaptation syndrome (swms), which unfortunately was a subjective reaction to normal working conditions Metropolitan Edison Co. v. W.C.A.B. 553 Pa. 177, 718 A.2d 759 (1998).

While the claim was pending, the Employer ultimately exempted the Claimant's maintenance department from the shift requirement without objection from the union. By January 1997 the Claimant could return to work due to a stabilization of his condition.

The Commonwealth Court en banc held the case could be distinguished from Metropolitan Edison because the Claimant's pre-existing condition was known to the Employer, as the Claimant got the job under the Vietnam Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974. Under these circumstances, abnormal working conditions existed in the opinion of the Court. Judge Leavitt dissented, declining to depart from the premise that "normal working conditions, such as requiring an employee to work an eight hour shift, do not constitute an injury under the Act." Metropolitan Edison 187, 718 A.2d at 764.

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