Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT) recently made a significant decision regarding entitlement limits for workplace mental stress claims. The tribunal declared that most of the legal restrictions placed on Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) mental stress claims are unconstitutional and a violation of equality rights under section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Source: Mondaq).
Hicks Morley, a local law firm, explains this decision is likely to have a significant impact on employers of all sizes and will likely increase the number of claims filed by employees who allege that they have suffered mental stress as a result of the regular stresses of the workplace.
The case involved a nurse who alleged that she was subjected to abusive behaviour at work for a period of 12 years. She suffered mental health effects as a result of this abusive behaviour but her claim for benefits under the WSIA was repeatedly denied by the WSIB. The WSIB relied on the mental stress entitlement restrictions outlined in subsections 13(4) and (5) of the WSIA:
Subsection 13 (4): Except as provided in subsection 5, a worker is not entitled to benefits under the insurance plan for mental stress.
The worker then appealed the decision and the Tribunal held that the mental stress exception constituted an unjustifiable infringement on equality rights under the Charter. Based on that conclusion, the Panel declined to apply subsections 13(4) and (5) of the Act and allowed to worker’s appeal (Source: Gowlings).
Implications for Employers
Although this decision only has an immediate impact on this specific appeal, it will be highly persuasive in any future appeals regarding mental stress. Joseph Cohen-Lyons from Hicks Morley explains that, from the Tribunal’s perspective, the WSIA no longer limits entitlement for mental stress to traumatic mental stress claims. Chronic mental stress claims are now eligible for compensation.
It is important to note, however, that until such a decision becomes the subject of a judicial review or the government decides to amend the legislation, there will remain a level of uncertainty as to whether such a claim or appeal for mental stress benefits will succeed (Source: Mondaq).
Regardless of this uncertainty, employers will still be under increasing pressure to limit and address the causes of workplace stress as a result of this decision. Employers should be reviewing their current practices, policies and procedures in order to ensure they are protecting themselves from potential mental stress claims. Documentation is key throughout this entire process (Source: Hicks Morley).
Clear Path’s team of disability management experts and medical professionals is specifically equipped to assist employers through the WSIB claims management and appeal process. If you have a question about a specific claim, including mental health, please contact Anna directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 519-624-0800.
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