Chronic Stress From Workplace Bullying Now Recognised By The WSIB
1) Bullying Is No Joke – It Can Have Serious Detrimental Health Effects
It has become clear from the flood of media reports in recent times that harassment and bullying is not just a grade school problem, but something that can infect workplaces everywhere. This kind of conduct can inflict serious mental stress and psychological problems upon victims of workplace abuse.
2) WSIB Could Not Be Claimed For Chronic Mental Stress Caused By Workplace Bullying – In Fact The WSIB Specifically Excluded It
For years Ontario’s workplace compensation would not allow such individuals to make claims for compensation, even though it was a form of injury that occurred in the course of work. Only cases of traumatic mental stress – e.g. exposure to sudden serious violence or other traumatizing experience could qualify. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act itself had a section explicitly excluding chronic mental stress – it is very unusual to exclude a specific medical or psychological conclusion in the actual statute.
3) The Exclusion Was Deemed A Charter Violation
That left victims in a very difficult position. They could sue their employer for failing to stop the abuse but a lawsuit against one’s employer pretty well is seen as incompatible with continuing working there – so basically you would have to quit your job in order to get some remedy.
A couple of years ago, that law was challenged successfully at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Tribunal and found to have violated the Charter of Rights. The Tribunal did not have the authority to strike down the law, but were limited to finding that it was of no force in that particular case. Others followed with similar claims, and still had to prove the Charter violation each time.
4) The WSIB Will Begin To Consider Bullying And Harassment Claims But Not Until 2018
On May 17, 2017, the Ontario Legislature passed into law changes that would permit workers’ compensation claims for chronic mental stress. The catch according to draft WSIB policy is that it will only apply to “accidents” after January 1, 2018. Both workers’ groups and employers will have concerns about how this law is implemented, and from the workers’ perspective, why those who suffer before that date are somehow subject to different and more difficult legal challenge.
The law, as before, will not cover stress claimed to arise from normal employment decisions, such as terminations, demotions, or changes in hours of work, for example. Even with the limitations, this is definitely a step forward in providing Ontario’s workers with greater protection.
5) What Does This Mean For Employers?
Employers should ensure they have policies in place for the reporting and prevention of workplace bullying and harassment. Management should be trained on those policies to ensure compliance and resource and support systems should be considered to deal with any health related issues which could arise. Management educational training should be provided to inform managers about the signs, and environmental cues which create a greater risk of such behaviour in the workplace. These types of proactive steps can not only reduce potential WSIB claims, but make for a happier and more productive work environment.