The fight to advance workers’ rights includes pushing to expand and enforce just compensation for injured workers. On one front, some progress has been won to recognize chronic mental stress as a compensable workplace injury in Ontario in recent years. But the large number of denials for chronic mental stress claims have left workers without the support they desperately need. The Toronto Star recently reported that more than 90% of chronic mental stress claims are denied compared to only 25% of other types of claims.
While the 2018 amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) brought hope for workers facing chronic mental stress, the current system fails to deliver real adequate support.
The WSIB policy on Chronic Mental Stress (CMS) set criteria requiring a “substantial” work-related stressor. Under this policy, “a work-related stressor will generally be considered substantial if it is excessive in intensity and/or duration in comparison to the normal pressures and tensions experienced by workers in similar circumstances”. This policy acts as a barrier, as it creates a higher threshold for workers to meet; all other injuries only require work to be a “significant” contributing factor (vs. substantial in chronic mental stress claims).
Under WSIB policy, the disabling stress workers experience might be dismissed as just typical in their job; “interpersonal conflicts between workers and their supervisors, co-workers or customers are generally considered to be a typical feature of normal employment. Consequently, such interpersonal conflicts are not generally considered to be a substantial work-related stressor”.
The stress related to work changes and employer decisions are also carved out; “there is no entitlement for chronic mental stress caused by an employer’s decisions or actions that are part of the employment function, such as terminations, demotion, transfers, discipline, changes in working hours, or changes in productivity expectations”.
These deliberate gaps in coverage often lead to unjust denials, leaving workers without the benefits they deserve. Claims for chronic mental stress due to toxic workplaces, harassment and/or bullying will be denied because WSIB states that these are “interpersonal conflicts and/or an employer’s decision.”
Denials place an unfair burden on workers, leaving them with no financial supports and no option but to appeal. This lengthy and challenging process often exacerbates the stress related symptoms workers are already facing. The failures of policy and compensation perpetuate the stigma around stress related illnesses.
To bring about meaningful change, organizing, solidarity and advocacy are key. Unions, worker organizations, and advocates must come together to challenge the current system and demand reforms that prioritize the well-being of workers. By raising awareness, advocating for change, and standing in solidarity with injured workers, we can work towards a future where workers are supported, protected, and afforded the compensation they rightfully deserve.