“Ombudsman asked to probe WSIB treatment of mentally ill: Complaint from group of legal experts says workers with chronic mental stress injuries face systematic discrimination.” / Sara Mojtehedzadeh (Toronto Star, Nov. 14, 2016)
London injured worker Wendy Knelsen, diagnosed with work-related chronic post-traumatic stress, ran up against the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s policy of compensating only mental stress injuries resulting from “an acute reaction to a sudden and unexpected traumatic event at work”. While Ontario’s occupational health and safety legislation (through the 2009 Bill 169 amendment) provides the right to a workplace free from harassment, violence and bullying, the province’s workers’ compensation board does not recognize mental stress developed over time in toxic work environments or caused by repeated and cumulative occupational exposure to traumatizing situations.
In 2014 the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal, with WSIAT decision 2157/09, found the mental stress restrictions of Ontario’s workers’ compensation act (subsections 13(4) and 13(5)) to be unconstitutional and discriminatory. In two subsequent successful worker appeals (WSIAT decisions (1945/10 and 665/10 ) the Tribunal panel also found the law and policy to be contrary to section 15 of the Charter. Yet the government has neither challenged the decisions nor changed the law, leaving the onus on each injured worker to mount his or her own appeal and Charter challenge. As Wendy Knelsen (now ten years on into her appeal) knows only too well, this is a lengthy, financially and emotionally draining process.
Request for an investigation
In light of the lack of WSIB or government response , a group of legal clinics and lawyers has submitted a formal complaint to the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman, requesting an investigation into the systemic denial of chronic mental stress injury claims. A request has also been forwarded for intervention of the Ontario Human Rights Commission on behalf of Ontario’s injured workers [read letter].
- Injured Workers’ Consultants’ Community Legal Clinic, IAVGO Community Legal Clinic, Workers’ Health and Safety Legal Clinic, Ron Ellis, Gary Newhouse. 2016 Nov. 9. Complaint to the Ombudsman of Ontario: WSIB Refusal to Compensate for Chronic Occupational Stress
- IWO Fact sheet (2016): Workplace Chronic Mental Stress Claims in Ontario
- Ontario Federation of Labour. 2016 Mar. Post-Trauma: OFL Submission to the Ontario Standing Committee on Social Policy on Bill 163, Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act (a call for compensation to be extended to all workers who have been psychologically harmed). See also IWC Commentary on Bill 163
- Lippel, Katherine. 2011. “Law, Public Policy and Mental Health in the Workplace.” HealthcarePapers 11(Sp): 20-37