Mental Disorder Provision of the British Columbia Workers Compensation Act Now In Force

Davis LLP Employment & Labour Bulletin

July 05, 2012

B.C. Government passes Bill 14 in bid to tackle workplace bullying.

Effective July 1, 2012, the major provisions of the Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2011, S.B.C. 2012, c. 23 came into force amending the Workers Compensation Act (the “Act”).

The New Mental Disorder Provision

The most significant amendment is the expanded compensation for mental disorders. The new amendment clarifies that a worker is entitled to compensation for a “mental disorder,” as opposed to “mental stress.” It expands compensation for mental stress arising from the course of the worker’s employment to go beyond the previous requirement of “an acute reaction to a sudden and traumatic event” to include a mental disorder that is either:

(i) a reaction to one or more traumatic events arising out of and in the course of employment, or

(ii) predominantly caused by a significant work-related stressor, including bullying or harassment, or a cumulative series of such stressors, arising out of and in the course of employment.

The mental disorder must be diagnosed by a registered psychiatrist or psychologist (previously physician or psychologist). Finally, as has always been the case, in order to be eligible for compensation, the workplace stressor(s) cannot be caused by a decision of the worker’s employer relating to the worker’s employment, including a decision to change the work to be performed or working conditions, to discipline the worker, or to terminate the worker’s employment.

These changes apply to all decisions of WorkSafeBC or the Workers Compensation Appeal Tribunal on or after July 1, 2012 including decisions in respect of claims made but not finally adjudicated before July 1, 2012.

What Does This Mean for Employers in B.C.?

Employers in B.C. now face additional responsibilities, and potentially higher costs, as workers suffering mental disorders caused by “significant work-related stressors,” or a series of traumatic events on the job, may seek compensation through WorkSafeBC, similar to claims made in relation to workplace accidents. The legislation now specifically lists harassment and bullying as behaviours that could trigger such a claim. In the past, the Act only covered those who suffered mental stress arising from a sudden or unexpected event, such as an emergency medical worker shaken by trauma or a bank teller involved in a holdup.

B.C. now joins other provinces – Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Quebec – which have addressed bullying and harassment either through changes to health and safety legislation or employment standards legislation. Federal workers in Canada have been protected from workplace bullying since 2008 through amendments to the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.

Other legislative changes to the Act include:

  • Adjusted compensation for injured apprentices to a level that fairly represents their loss of earnings; and
  • Survivor benefits to common law couples without children after two years of cohabitation (previously three years).

The full text of the Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2011, S.B.C. 2012, c. 23 can been viewed here.