Recently an article was posted in the Canadian HR Reporter, “Ontario could see spike in mental stress claims”. This article was very detailed in explaining the nature of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal’s decision on eliminating the requirement of physical threat when granting benefits for mental stress claims. We have summarized and highlighted the main points below:
In January the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT) decided to eliminate the requirement of physical threat when granting benefits for mental stress claims. (Decision 483/11,)This will widen the number of claims being made, now that a physical event does not have to be the trigger for the mental stress claim. This opens the door for a variety of circumstances under which an employee might be able to receive compensation. It is estimated that 98% of mental stress claims would have been rejected prior to this decision, due to the absence of a physical threat.
The case that changed the nature of eligibility for mental stress benefits involved a female education assistant who sought benefits after she was falsely accused of striking a Grade 5 student in class. This individual had been an educator for more than 20 years, and was suspended while the school investigated the allegation. She was reinstated, however the worker’s physician reported that she experienced flashbacks of the moment of her suspension and avoided children, schools and playgrounds. The incident triggered memories of sexual and emotional abuse she experienced in her childhood. She was subsequently diagnosed with major depression. The tribunal found that the events she experienced were “objectively unexpected and traumatic” resulting in a disabling psychological condition.
Howard Levitt from Levitt law firm in Toronto agreed that “an allegation like that in the context of a teacher can lead to several major repercussions: one she could be criminally charged; two she could be precluded from ever teaching again…and three her reputation will be destroyed in newspapers, articles and otherwise, so there’s no question that what happened to her falls within the definition for traumatic mental stress benefits”.
While it has been long associated with mental health claims the board has decided that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is no longer the only required diagnosis to qualify for benefits entitlement. To apply for traumatic stress benefits the claimant, must first be diagnosed by a physician with an Axis 1 diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Any diagnosis under Axis 1 is acceptable such as general clinical disorders (PTSD), major depression autism, schizophrenia etc.
To be eligible for benefits the following must be proven:
Increasingly we are seeing that worker’s compensation claims are no longer limited to physical injury, and now with Decision 483/11 mental health, depression and stress claims will become more common. They are often more complex and difficult to resolve vs. physical injury claims. Minimize the possibility of mental health claims in your workplace by encouraging wellness, and offering appropriate support programs. The Great West Life Centre for Mental Health has a great website that offers workplace strategies for mental health.
If you have questions about handling a mental health claim, or managing a difficult claim please contact Anna Aceto-Guerin directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 519-624-0800.
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