How mental illness increasingly impacts your workers’ compensation program

How mental illness increasingly impacts your workers’ compensation program

If you’re responsible for an organization’s Worker’s Compensation program, are you prepared for the big changes coming – some here already – affecting your work and, potentially, your employee absence rates?

Until recently, the provincial compensation boards in Canada have reserved the allowance of work-related mental stress and illness claims for exceptional cases only, like a teller held hostage in a bank robbery, or a subway driver witnessing a suicide on the tracks.

What’s more, WC claims made by police officers, paramedics and other emergency workers have often been denied by the provincial boards in the past, on the premise that people in these occupations knowingly go into professions where risks and exposure to traumatic experiences could impact their mental health.

Shifting views on mental health

Fortunately, there’s a growing awareness that chronic exposure to traumatic occupational events can eventually result in mental illness and/or stress-related absence, regardless of whether it’s inherent in a chosen profession.  As society becomes more educated on the negative effects of stress, bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace, legislation is beginning to follow suit.

  • In 2012, WorkSafeBC amended Section 5.1 of the Workers’ Compensation Act - the legislation now allows a worker to be compensated for a mental disorder that does not result from an injury (assuming the claim meets the applicable criteria).
  • In 2016, Ontario’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) passed Bill 163 (presumptive legislation), which provides for the immediate allowance of a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claim for emergency workers who meet the criteria outlined by the WSIB.

Preparing your business and your workforce

As a society we need to become more comfortable with the concept of mental illness and/or stress related claims. As compensation boards continue to take a more holistic approach to rehabilitation, employers need to prepare themselves and their workforce for this evolution so that these claims and the associated costs can be properly managed.

For those of you just starting to think about these issues and their implications, here are three things that you can do to get ready for the future:

  1. Educate yourself about legislation – not just in your own backyard, but in other provinces and even internationally. In our hyper-connected world, you need to expect that today’s legislative trends will migrate to provinces that have not adopted similar legislation. We can also expect that legislation in those provinces that have adopted some change will continue to do so.
  2. Do a workplace assessment – in the HR toolkit, you have the tools for gathering input and assessing your organization’s exposure to mental illness and stress-related claims. Prepare for the inevitability that mental illness will become a more relevant factor in planning short-term, long-term and workers’ compensation claims management programs. For example: Do you need more sensitivity training? More education or awareness - building among employees regarding mental health? Is bullying/harassment an issue in your workplace?
  3. Get executive buy-in – Senior leaders aren’t immune to attitudes that need changing. The faster and more attuned they are to the changing story of mental health in the workplace, the faster and more successfully you can drive change in your organization - and help people get the support they need early enough so they return to work faster.

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