Uber‘s insurance provider has refused the benefits claim of the family of Joseph Thomas, a 34-year-old Uber engineer who took his life in August of last year, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Thomas had landed the $170,000 role at Uber just five months earlier, but soon became depressed and suffered from extreme stress and anxiety, which he told a doctor and friends was due to the extreme work environment at Uber. As Thomas told a friend on Facebook:
“Man words can’t really describe. I’m not dead but I wouldn’t describe myself as ok. The sad thing is this place (Uber) has broken me to the point where I don’t have the strength to look for another job.”
Because Thomas worked for Uber for less than six months, Uber’s insurance provider denied the benefits claim of his family—a wife and two children—because under California law workers’ compensation usually doesn’t cover psychiatric injuries until a person has been employed for at least six months. For this reason, Uber says its insurance company is simply following statutory requirements. Yet there is an exception to that law: “If the psychiatric injury is caused by a sudden and extraordinary employment condition,” the six-month limit does not apply.
Thomas’s family is now locked in a legal battle because they claim his suicide was a direct result of Uber’s hostile work environment. “We think it was stress and harassment induced by his job, between him being one of the few African-Americans there, working around the clock, and the culture of Uber [that caused his suicide]. And he couldn’t talk about it to anyone because of nondisclosure agreements,” the family’s lawyer said.
Update: An Uber spokeswoman reached out with the following statement on behalf of the company: “No family should go through the unspeakable heartbreak the Thomas family has experienced. Our prayers and thoughts are with them.”MG