WSIB mental stress policy
Just over a year ago the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) released a new chronic mental stress policy. WSIB is now covering illness and injuries related to workplace stress in ways it never did before.
Work related chronic mental stress is defined as an appropriately diagnosed mental disorder that is predominantly caused by a substantial work-related stressor or a series of stressors. A work-related stressor would generally be substantial if it is excessive in intensity and/or duration compared with the normal pressures and tensions experienced by people working in similar circumstances.
An example would be a teacher who is the subject of demeaning comments from her vice principal on a regular basis, quite often in front of her teacher colleagues, and develops an anxiety disorder as a result. Another example would be a housekeeping attendant who is subjected to inappropriate and harassing comments from co-workers on a regular basis. If he develops a depression disorder as a result, WSIB may cover his absence from work.
There is often a fine line, however, between abusive behaviour which causes a medical condition and the regular bumps and grinds of the workplace. Mental stress caused by an employer’s management decision is generally not covered. If someone changes your shift schedule, appropriately disciplines you for not following safety rules, or declines to offer you permanent employment, it is not going to found a chronic stress claim. Your absence from work for your illness must have taken place after April 29, 2014, to qualify and an appropriate health professional must provide a diagnosis.
Chronic mental stress is different than traumatic mental stress. Examples of traumatic stress would include being a bank teller that is robbed or you witness a horrific accident at work. Before the new policy was put in place, you could only get WSIB coverage if your absence from work was as a result of a traumatic incident. While it is great that the doors have been opened and there is an understanding that mental health is as important and real as physical health, it may be that the doors have not been thrown wide open. It has been reported that in the first five months under the policy, 94% of the applications for chronic mental stress were refused.
All of us has stressors in our life and it may sometimes be a challenge proving that your doctor-diagnosed clinical condition is as a result of workplace stressors rather than those outside the factory gates. Claimants have to establish that the predominant cause of their condition is the workplace. That opens them up to questions about all aspects of their personal life and history. But if you can’t work and the bills have to be paid, the application will usually be made. As in all things, those who document events and comments in the workplace and do end up ill will be the most likely to succeed.
In most situations I have seen, when people are abused in the workplace, it is usually by somebody in management. They are the ones with the power. Being abused or harassed has far more impact if you have no ability to object or fight back. Your lack of power intensifies the trauma and hurt and can accelerate the resulting anxiety and depression. You can be sure that your boss will not be eager to confirm that she abuses you when WSIB calls so having your own notes will be instrumental.
Ed Canning practices labour and employment law with Ross & McBride LLP, in Hamilton, representing both employers and employees. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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