You may think that the WSIB pays benefits to a worker for traumatic mental stress only in situations where the worker was involved in a situation perceived as or actually life-threatening. And you would have been right until recently, when the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board Appeals Tribunal broadened the scope of coverage significantly.
Section 13 of the WSIA provides that an employee is entitled to benefits for traumatic mental stress if s/he has “an acute reaction to a sudden and unexpected traumatic event arising out of and in the course of employment”. The WSIB’s policy provides guidance by indicating that this generally means “a criminal act, or a horrific accident and may involve actual or threatened death or serious harm against the worker, a co-worker, a workers’ family member or others.” WSIAT decisions have historically interpreted these statements as meaning that the worker must suffer some life-threatening, or at least perceived life-threatening, experience.
In Decision 483/11, an educational assistant was accused, but then exonerated, of striking a student. The WSIAT granted benefits to her for the period of her clinical depression resulting from the incident, overturning previous case-law and stating:
[W]hat the worker experienced would be considered objectively traumatic by the average worker and unexpected in the normal course of the worker’s employment. We are also persuaded that the psychological condition for which the worker seeks entitlement, a depressive disorder, is one that falls within the “diagnostic requirements” in the Board’s policy.
From this point forward, employers should expect that where an employee has a diagnosed acute psychiatric or psychological response to a work-related situation, s/he will be entitled to benefits if the “sudden and unexpected traumatic event” in the workplace was:
• clearly and precisely identifiable;
• objectively traumatic; and
• unexpected in the normal or daily course of the worker’s employment or work environment.
The good news is that receipt of WSIB benefits limits an employee’s ability to commence a Court action against the employer. However, as most employers are aware, this may increase the number of such claims, each of which can quickly become costly in terms of their impact on WSIB premiums, rebates, assessments, etc..