Home > 3208.3, Defenses, Develop the Record > What Constitutes a “Lawful” Personnel Action?

What Constitutes a “Lawful” Personnel Action?

Applicant, a psychiatric nurse, filed a psyche claim after repeatedly being told by a supervisor (a psychiatric technician) to administer a drug at a more frequent rate than that prescribed by the treating physician.  The disagreement had to do with the meaning of “24 hour period.”  The technician incorrectly believed that a 24-hour period ran from midnight to midnight, rather than an actual 24 hour cycle beginning with the first administration of a drug.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge interpreted applicant’s claim as hurt feelings based on resentment at being under the supervision of a technician, and found applicant had suffered no actual injury.  Applicant filed a petition for reconsideration.

The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board denied applicant’s petition, adopting the WCJ’s opinion and concluding that defendant’s conduct was a lawful, good-faith personnel action and regarded applicant’s claim as a means of confronting the defendant hospital over the issue of its chain of command.

The Court of Appeals took a different approach to this matter.  In its opinion, the Court annulled the decision of the WCAB and remanded the case to determine if the action of defendant, through its supervising technician, was, indeed, lawful.

Labor Code § 3208.3 governs psyche claims, and subsection (h) provides a defense against those psychiatric injuries substantially caused by “a lawful, nondiscriminatory, good faith personnel action.”

At least in this case, the good faith personnel action defense to a psyche claim turns on the meaning of the word “lawful.”  The psyche technician’s interpretation of “24 hours” seems at odds with the definition used in the practice of medicine, and likely the common sense meaning of the term (imagine a patient, in following the prescription of 1 pill every 24 hours, taking one pill ten minutes before midnight and another twenty minutes later.).

That being said, does such a mistake and deviation from generally accepted practice somehow make the supervisor’s actions anything other than lawful?  At most, this seems like an act of negligence.

Hopefully, lawful and correct will remain two distinct terms and the good-faith personnel defense will be one less chip worse for the wear.  Let’s all keep our eyes open for how this case turns out.

  1. September 16, 2011 at 8:44 am

    I, along with most people who have ever worked in an office setting have had run ins with managers, supervisors etc. I do agree it can be a bit stressful and not too pleasant. But to file a psyche claim seems extreme. The facts of this specific case may be severe enough to warrant it (if it is), but an employees must be able to handle some stress in the workplace.

    Kid gloves are for kids. Without knowing more about the case it’s not fair to make presumptions, but on first glance it sounds like hurt feelings and maybe a person who is not fit for her job.

    As to the lawful aspect, I agree it sounds more like negligence.

  2. Peggy
    June 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Well, the case had the psych tech telling the RN in front of a Convict Sexual Predator/Chronic Substance Abuser (per diagnoses) that the RN was WRONG, and he could have his (narcotic) medication. The psych tech had 2 years experience after a 1 year community college program. The RN had 15 years experience and 17 years of college: AS Nursing, BA Social Science, and 6 years active and reserve military experience. The psych tech had such little respect for the RN, when the RN told her she had been a nurse for 15 years, her response was, “Well, I have been passing meds for 2 years,” and then she proceeded to give the patient a 5th dose of narcotics, when his physician’s order allowed for only 4, within 24 hours. Meanwhile, the Predator/Drug Seeking patient gloated at the RN through the window- as in “I win.” It is not a matter of resentment of a PT’s supervision of an RN, it is a matter of RESPECT for the LAW, Responsibility to carry out physician’s orders LEGALLY, and the failure to do so at the expense of the RN. The Board of Vocational Nurses and Psychiatric Technician’s determined the psychiatric technician acted illegally in giving a 5th dose, as she did not have the authority to amend a physician’s order…. In the clinical arena it is Not like the patient is at home with a jar of pills to take at his discretion. Also, yes- there were events preceeding this ‘last straw’ event of the shift that contributed to the injury.

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