A growing number of disability and Workers’ Compensation claims among office employees claim “Sick Building Syndrome” (“SBS”) as the basis for the claim. SBS is a term given to a number of symptoms claimed by employees to result from exposure to unidentified substances in the workplace. Symptoms can include sinus congestion and pressure, headaches, allergic reactions, fatigue and other problems. SBS is usually claimed when the employer and employee cannot identify a specific cause for the problems such as mold. In a new decision from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, a Denver attorney was awarded long-term disability benefits due to her inability to work in her firm’s office due to SBS. She was awarded LTD benefits through age 65 because she was deemed unable to come into work.
SBS claims worry employers and insurers because of the inability to identify a specific cause for the ailment, and due to the fact that the complaining employee may be the only person in the office experiencing such symptoms. Although the Tenth Circuit case was filed against the insurer and not the law firm, the facts indicate that the firm attempted to accommodate the plaintiff by allowing telecommuting and other means to allow her to continue working. Recognition by federal courts of SBS as a legitimate medical condition raises the probability that the syndrome will also be recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring reasonable accommodation by employers to remove the affected employee from the unidentified exposure.