On June 26, 2023, WorkSafeBC announced anticipated amendments to its policies regarding compensation for mental disorder claims and released a related discussion paper for public consultation and feedback.
WorkSafeBC’s proposed amendments arise from recommendations #39 and #40 in Paul Petrie’s 2018 compensation policy review, Restoring the Balance: A Worker-Centred Approach to Workers’ Compensation Policy. Those recommendations included updating the policies in WorkSafeBC’s Rehabilitation Services & Claims Manual, Volume II (the “Claims Manual”) to:
- remove the requirement that a “significant work-related stressor” be unusual in order for a resulting mental disorder to be compensable; and
- clarify the application of the “labour relations exclusion” provision under s. 135(1)(c) of the Workers Compensation Act, namely, to reflect that this exclusion should only apply to mental disorders that are a direct reaction to the employer’s decisions, not arising from workplace conditions.
The proposed policy amendments with respect to the definition of “significant work-related stressor” seek to clarify and broaden this definition to reflect that a work-related stressor is considered significant when it is excessive in intensity and/or duration from what is experienced in the normal pressures or tensions of “employment” generally, rather than what is experienced in “a worker’s employment” specifically.
WorkSafeBC’s proposed policy amendments regarding the labour relations exclusion are intended to provide further guidance and incorporate principles from findings of recent Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (“WCAT”) decisions, with respect to the principle that stressors experienced in the normal course of business are not compensable.
In practice, WorkSafeBC, the Review Division, and WCAT have already largely been adjudicating mental disorder claims in recognition of the principles reflected in these proposed policy amendments, despite not being previously provided for in policy.
One specific point of note in these proposed amendments, however, is WorkSafeBC’s proposed addition to its policy’s explanation of the labour relations exclusion to highlight “excessive workload” as a potential significant stressor. The proposed amendment explains that “decisions relating to workload typically fall under the exclusion,” but that “the exclusion may not apply to employer decisions which result in an unreasonably excessive workload that persists for an extended period of time.” As a result of the express recognition that an unreasonably excessive workload can constitute a significant work-related stressor (in other words, that this can form the basis of a compensable mental disorder claim), we anticipate WorkSafeBC’s adjudicators will be more inclined to determine that claims involving allegations of excessive workload meet WorkSafeBC’s requirements for compensation.
While the effect of these proposed amendments remains to be seen, it is expected that if these amendments are implemented, they will generally make it easier for workers to obtain compensation for mental disorders arising out of and in the course of their employment.
Consultation Process – Now Open
The consultation process regarding the proposed amendments is now open and stakeholders can provide feedback on WorkSafeBC’s discussion paper until October 6, 2023, by following the steps outlined on WorkSafeBC’s website. After October 6, 2023, WorkSafeBC’s Board of Directors will consider the feedback received before making a decision as to the implementation of these proposed amendments.