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Employment & Labour

WSIB changes slipping under employers' radar

Many employers are unaware of recent changes to Ontario’s workplace compensation laws pertaining to work-related mental health challenges, Markham, Ont.-based employment lawyer Laura Williams tells

Williams, founder and principal of Williams HR Law and Williams HR Consulting, says that while changes to the province’s minimum wage contained in the wide-ranging Bill 148 have garnered plenty of publicity, the amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act slipped by virtually unnoticed in the spring, when Bill 127, the Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act, received Royal Assent.

“They were tucked into a budget measures bill, and have been totally eclipsed by other developments, so I don’t think employers have their eye on what’s happening,” Williams says. “But it’s something that is very important for them to know.”

As a result of the legislative changes, which take effect in January, employees who suffer chronic mental stress in the course of their employment will be able to claim Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits.

Currently, compensation claims for workplace mental injuries can only be successful if they arose as a result of a single traumatic event, such as witnessing a workplace accident. Under the old version of the law, claims for all other mental injuries were specifically barred.

“These changes are huge,” Williams says, explaining that the WSIB has traditionally dealt primarily with physical injuries.

Many employers fear the new rules could lead to a spike in claims and WSIB premiums, but she says their focus should be on preventing the conditions that could lead to employees developing problems.

“It gives employers another reason to be proactive and do their best to ensure that they have a fulfilling, engaged working environment,” Williams says. “The new law adds another layer of responsibility for employers to step up and ensure their workplaces are free not only of harassment but other situations that could lead to a chronic stress entitlement.”

In a move that has helped curb fears about opening the floodgates to chronic mental stress claims, the WSIB recently unveiled a policy explaining how and when it will approve claims from employees for chronic mental stress.

The policy says that any worker who can demonstrate that a diagnosed mental stress injury was caused by a substantial work-related stressor, which can include bullying and harassment, is entitled to benefits. However, it has attracted criticism from workers’ groups who say it sets the threshold too high for claimants to show a causal relationship between the two.

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