Damage from a workplace injury or illness can affect the the mental health of injured workers in a number of ways that extend far beyond the physical harm from the initial injury:
- the psychological trauma resulting from an occupational injury or incident
- coping with the chronic pain that may result
- the anxiety of wondering how to financially make ends meet
- social isolation and depression when removed from regular daily life and routines
- the stress of dealing with aggressive claims management practices by employers or the Board, harassment and toxic work environments
- the stigma and suspicion that place the blame on the victim, especially when the injury is invisible
- the additional challenges too often faced by Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities
While the WSIB recognizes acute mental health injury …
The Board’s traumatic mental stress policies entitle workers to benefits for diagnosed mental health injuries resulting from a clearly identifiable and objectively traumatic work-related event. This is usually a sudden or unexpected event, such as witnessing a horrific accident, or being the object of violence.
With passage of Bill 163 (2016), post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) diagnosed in first responders is presumed to be a work-related injury unless proven otherwise. This speeds up the claims process and gives emergency personnel (such as police, firefighters, paramedics) faster access to treatment. While the presumption was extended in 2018 to cover front-line nurses and other designated workers, Ontario has not yet followed Manitoba’s lead in recognizing that events triggering PTSD can happen in any workplace and in any occupation.
… restoring compensation for chronic mental stress was a hard-won victory – though few claims still accepted
Before the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 removed coverage, Ontario compensated also for mental health injuries acquired over time (chronic). Under Bill 99 the Board now treated mental health injuries differently than it did physical injuries, where workers are entitled to compensation whether the injury results from a single event (like a broken limb) or develops gradually (like repetitive strain injury).
In 2014 the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal ruled that this restriction on chronic mental stress claims was unconstitutional and discriminatory. When the WSIB and the government refused to make requested changes to law and policy, injured worker groups, psychologists and other health providers, legal clinics and compensation lawyers led a sustained public awareness and reform campaign, including a complaint lodged with the Ombudsman. Both the subsequent government Bill 127 (2017) amending the Act and WSIB’s new draft policy drew strong criticism as discriminatory by a coalition of advocates. A subsequent class action lawsuit launched by ONIWG, IWC community legal clinic and injured worker Margery Wardle resulted in a victory on behalf of workers with claims prior to 2018 when the government addressed concerns on retroactivity and reconsideration of claims with Bill 177.
The new Chronic Mental Stress policy (Policy 15-03-14) and revised Traumatic Mental Stress policy (Policy 15-03-02) came into effect Jan. 1, 2018. However a WSIB internal audit has shown that, since the legislation came into force, the Board has denied 94 per cent of chronic mental stress claims (Toronto Star, Dec. 4, 2018).
- Mojtehedzadeh, Sara. 2023 May 6. “Chronic stress is a recognized work injury. So why does Ontario’s WSIB reject more than 90% of claims?” Toronto Star
- Women of Inspiration. 2020 Apr. 23. Letter to the WSIB: re Black mental health and COVID-19
- Coalition. 2017 Oct. 12. Letter to the Premier re: WSIB’s Discrimination Against Workers with Mental Injuries.
- WSIB. 2017. Work-Related Chronic Mental Stress Policy Consultation (submissions)
- Mojtehedzadeh, Sara. 2016 Nov. 14. “Ombudsman Asked to Probe WSIB Treatment of Mentally Ill.” Toronto Star
- IWO. 2016. Fact Sheet: Workplace Chronic Mental Stress Claims.