Human Resources News & Insights

‘I’m deaf from customers’ yelling. Now pay me comp!’

Can an employee, who lost her hearing, get workers’ comp because she was yelled at by customers?

If the employee can prove the yelling caused her hearing loss, a court said.

What happened?

For 18 years a female employee of National Fuel spent parts of a typical workday on the phone with customers who were angry.

Two years after she retired she filed a workers’ comp claim that said she’d suffered occupational hearing loss from long-term exposure to noise (yelling customers).

Who won?

The ex-employee won in front of a Workers’ Compensation Board — but that ruling was later overturned on appeal from the employer.

The appeals court said she hadn’t spent all eight hours of her day on the phone exposed to 80 to 90 decibels of noise.

And her description of the actual noise level was too vague and imprecise to establish that it caused her hearing loss, the court said.

Result: She was not awarded comp benefits — but would’ve been if she could’ve proven her hearing loss was a direct result of her job duties.

Cite: Zahm v. National Fuel.

Do you think the final ruling was fair? Share your thoughts in the Comments Box below.

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  1. CA Risk Mgr says:

    This was obviously not a CA statutory claim, because the ER likely wouldn’t have recon’d and the appeal panel likely wouldn’t have reversed without more discovery.

  2. Joyce Kander says:

    Unfortunately, these things happen. We now require all employees to have a baseline hearing test when they receive an offer from us, so we can prove or disprove hearing loss is job related.

  3. Yeah the ruling was right. She is part of the growing number of idiots that want money for nothing and sue to do so. Its people like her that cause employers insurance rates to increase which in turn filters down ultimatly to the rest of the workforce by lower yearly increases and/or bonuses, increased insurance premiums etc.

    The courts have got to stop babying people all the time…if there was a legitamate claim I am the first to acknowledge a payout but this is obviously someone in need of money and not willing to work for it…go greet at WalMart lady!

  4. She retired with 18 years of service; therefore, she was not as young as she may have been 18 years ago and unfortunately, things stop working as you get older including hearing, eyesight, etc. It does not appear that she retired because of her inability to do her job (hear) and without proof that her job caused the hearing loss, decision to not award comp benefits was correct.

  5. While I was not in court to hear this case, I have to trust that the court made the right decision after fully evaluating her claim. She was not in an industrial environment, and was not able to provide necessary proof that the hearing loss was work related. Most likely she did not have a Moderate(41dB to 55dB) or greater hearing loss and therefore it becomes very difficult to prove it was related to work and not occupation. Also, there is a very typical curve (banana curve) on an audiogram when workers suffer exposure related hearing loss.

    I also have to ask myself, could she have prevented this by turning down the volume on her phone or requesting a phone with volume control? Her case is different from Industrial hearing loss in that she would of had some control over her noise exposure by simply adjusting volume or requesting new phone equipment. I’m guessing she has never filed a complaint or request in her 18 years of service.

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