A recent case from the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, Clarke v Federated Co-operatives Limited, 2011 SKQB 180 (CanLII), has affirmed that employees will be barred from commencing an action outside of the scheme of The Workers’ Compensation Act, 1979, S.S. 1979, c. W-17.1 (Saskatchewan) (the “WCBA”) with respect to allegations of harassment against employers. An employee, Clarke, commenced an action against his employer and four employees, alleging that he was harassed and verbally abused by his superior while he was employed. The causes of action identified in the statement of claim included intentional infliction of mental and emotional distress, breach of the employment contract, negligence and defamation.
The employer paid assessments to the Workers’ Compensation Board in relation to Clarke’s employment and Clarke was therefore eligible for compensation under the WCBA in the event of a work-related injury, defined in s. 2(k) of the WCBA as an injury “arising out of and in the course of employment”. The WCBA provides a scheme for compensating workers who suffer work-related injuries and further provides that a worker who has suffered a work-related injury has no right of action against an employer or another worker, and is restricted to claiming compensation under the WCBA.
Clarke argued that his superior engaged in morally reprehensible intentional conduct which could not reasonably be considered to have arisen out of and in the course of that employee’s employment, and therefore was not within the scope of the WCBA. However, the court affirmed that the WCBA focuses on the injured worker and if the worker receives an injury arising out of and in the course of that worker’s employment, it makes no difference to the application of the WCBA that the person who caused the injury was acting outside of the course of that person’s employment.
Clarke also argued that the words “arising out of” suggest that the injury, to fall within the scope of the WCBA, must arise from a normal aspect of the injured worker’s employment and therefore that his own case could fall within the scope of the WCBA only if part of his employment required him to be subjected to harassment and abuse. The court did not accept this restriction on the scope of the WCBA and held, in accordance with the presumptions set out at s. 29 of the WCBA, that as Clarke suffered the injury in the course of his employment, it was presumed to have arisen out of his employment.
For employers, the Clarke decision makes it clear that in addition to physical injuries, employees who suffer mental and emotional injuries during the course of their employment are also subject to the provisions of the WCBA. That means those employees may be entitled to benefits under the WCBA, but at the same time they are barred from suing their employer in relation to those injuries.