On January 1, 2018, the WSIB Chronic Mental Stress Policy came into effect, confirming when the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board will allow entitlement to workers' compensation benefits for workers who suffer from chronic mental stress that arose out of and in the course of their employment. The policy was originally released late in 2017 following amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to allow for these conditions.

The Policy allows for entitlement to benefits for chronic mental stress, caused by a substantial work-related stressor arising out of and in the course of the worker's employment. The policy defines a substantial work-related stressor as:

A work-related stressor will generally be considered substantial if it is excessive in intensity and/or duration in comparison to the normal pressures and tensions experienced by workers in similar circumstances.

A substantial work-related stressor may include being exposed to workplace harassment or from performing work in an occupation that has a high degree of routine stress, such as those that have responsibility over matters involving life and death, or routine work in extremely dangerous situations. The Policy states that interpersonal conflicts within the workplace are generally not considered to meet the criteria for entitlement, unless the conflict amounts to workplace harassment, or results in conduct that a reasonable person would "perceive as egregious or abusive".

In order for the WSIB to allow entitlement under the Policy:

  • There must be a diagnosis in accordance with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM);
  • The diagnosis must be made by "an appropriate regulated health care professional (i.e. a physician, nurse practitioner, psychologist or psychiatrist);
  • The WSIB must be able to identify the event(s) that are alleged to have caused the chronic mental stress, through information from co-workers, supervisory staff or others; and
  • The WSIB must be satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that the substantial work-related stressor arose out of and in the course of the worker's employment, and was the predominant cause of the worker's diagnosed mental stress injury.

Under the Policy, workers will not be entitled to chronic mental stress caused by an employer's actions or decisions that are part of the employment function, including terminations, demotions, transfers, discipline, changes in working hours or changes in productivity requirements. However, actions by the employer that are not considered part of the employment function may be considered for entitlement.

There are a number of ways in which expansion of entitlement to include claims for chronic mental stress will have a significant impact on employers. Employers will have to ensure that they report these claims to the WSIB within 3 days of becoming aware of them. Failure to do so may put employers at risk for late reporting penalties and/or prosecution. Employers will need to investigate any reported cause(s) of the substantial work-related stressors and take steps to limit and address them. Any such incidents should be well documented. Employers will also need to create opportunities for modified work, where required, in order to account for any psychological limitations workers may have as a result of these conditions. These claims have the potential to have significant cost implications for employers. As such, it is imperative that employers look for opportunities to reduce or eliminate stressors in the workplace to prevent these claims before they occur.