Home > 3208.3, Defenses > Defining the Scope of the Good-Faith Personnel Action Defense

Defining the Scope of the Good-Faith Personnel Action Defense

In a recent case, County of Sacramento v. WCAB (Michael Brooks) (2011) 13 WCAB Rptr. 193 , the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board interpreted the good-faith personnel action defense, further clarifying its scope.  (Sorry folks, no good news is headed our way on this one…)

In California Workers’ Compensation practice, recent years have seen a growing number of psyche claims tacked on to other injuries, but sometimes as stand-alone injuries as well.  In both cases , the insurer/employer should look closely at the good-faith personnel action defense of Labor Code § 3208.3(h).

Essentially, an otherwise compensable psychiatric injury shall not be compensable for an injury “substantially caused by a lawful, nondiscriminatory, good faith personnel action.”

In the Brooks case, the applicant, a Supervising Deputy Probation Officer with the County of Sacramento Probation Department filed a complaint against a subordinate for excessive force in subduing a juvenile inmate.  An investigation followed, during which Mr. Brooks perceived a total lack of support from his supervisors and employers, and the over-enthusiastic employee filed a grievance against the applicant..

After filing an application, the parties used an Agreed Medical Evaluator who found that applicant’s psychiatric impairment, Adjustment Disorder with Depressed and Anxious Mood, was caused, in equal parts, by (1) the filing of the grievance; (2) defendant’s investigation; and (3) his feelings of being unsupported.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge found that the defense of good-faith personnel action was not met and made an award in favor of applicant.  Defendant filed for reconsideration.

On reconsideration, the WCAB affirmed the WCJ’s decision, finding two of the components causing the impairment did not qualify as good-faith personnel actions, so only 33% of the causation qualified for the defense, rendering the § 3208.3(h) inapplicable.

As the WCAB reasoned, the term “personnel action” as used in § 3208.3(h) is “conduct attributable to management in managing its business.”  The WCAB expressly rejected the position that the scope of “personnel action” encompasses “all actions by any level of personnel in the employment situation.”  (13 WCAB Rptr. 193, 194).  Among those actions not covered by the defense are the actions of one employee against a fellow or lesser employee, unless authorized or ratified by management.

Therefore, the WCAB concluded, while the investigation was a good faith personnel action, the grievance filed by applicant and applicant’s own feelings in response to his perceptions regarding management were not good-faith personnel actions.

Defendant has filed a Petition for Writ of Review, which was issued on June 23, 2011.

In reading these facts, I can’t help but think that the Board erred in its conclusion.  I agree that the process of filing a grievance might not be covered by the defense of § 3208.3, and no one is contesting the finding that management’s investigation falls well within the scope of the same.

But defendant’s approach to handling this matter, and the degree of support provided to applicant throughout the process, is a good faith personnel action in and of itself.  Therefore, applicant’s reactions to this good faith personnel action should be folded into the personnel action, and thereby be covered by the defense.

After all, every time the good faith personnel action defense has been used successfully, there must have been some reaction from the applicant to the action itself.  Perhaps the Court of Appeals shall see it the same way as does your humble author?

Categories: 3208.3, Defenses
  1. January 3, 2012 at 9:45 am

    I agree with you. And why would this not fall under “conduct attributabile to management in managing its business” I believe this to be true because the applicant violated management’s policy.

  1. July 18, 2012 at 8:03 am

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