Repeated verbal or psychological harassment of an employee by his coworkers resulting in injury is properly brought as a workers’ compensation claim, and therefore should not be brought as a civil suit, Master Laycock of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ruled earlier this month.
In Ashraf v. S.N.C. Lavalin ATP Inc., the plaintiff alleged that his coworkers repeatedly marginalized and undermined him, and that his employer did nothing to stop the systemic harassment. The plaintiff alleged that as a result of this conduct he suffered mental anguish that caused or exacerbated certain illnesses or injuries with severe pain and suffering, resulting in his inability to maintain employment. The plaintiff did not plead constructive dismissal, but rather claimed compensation for lost income and benefits, and for pain and suffering. The defendant applied for an order to strike the claim, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter on the basis of the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Act.
Master Laycock found that the civil action was barred by section 21 of the Act because the plaintiff had a claim for workers’ compensation. In reaching this conclusion, Master Laycock noted that an “accident” under the Act includes the willful act of someone who is not the person suffering the accident; the Alberta legislation does not expressly exclude psychological stress as a compensable injury, nor the intentional or malicious infliction thereof; and that past jurisprudence demonstrates that workers’ compensation claims can arise from continuing conduct and not solely isolated events.