Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEU, sent the following letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne regarding new policies that the WSIB has adopted on chronic mental stress and traumatic mental stress.
November 2, 2017
The Honourable Kathleen Wynne
Premier of Ontario
Room 281, Legislative Building
Queen’s Park, Toronto ON M7A 1A1
Re: New WSIB policies on chronic mental stress and traumatic mental stress
I am writing to ask for your help in changing the direction of the WSIB’s new policies on chronic mental stress and traumatic mental stress.They run counter to your government’s stated position on addressing mental health concerns and reducing the stigmatization of people with mental health disorders.
Your government was on the right track with the passage of amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act that allowed for entitlement for chronic and traumatic mental stress. But the new WSIB policies undermine these amendments, making it nearly impossible for workers to get entitlement for chronic mental stress and erecting unfair obstacles for those with traumatic mental stress conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder.
These policies set a more onerous standard for workers with mental stress injuries than for workers with other types of injuries.For every other injury, workers must show that work-related factors “significantly contributed” to their injury. However, for entitlement to chronic mental stress compensation, a worker must show that work-related factors were the “predominant” cause of their stress.
The standard of “significantcontributing factor” is a fundamental principle of workers’ compensation law. It recognizes that a person who goes to work healthy and comes home injured should be entitled to compensation. That is clearly not the case witha “predominantcause” standard, which requires the injured person to prove that work-related stressors were the primary cause of the mental stress.
The predominant-cause standard will allowthe WSIB to denyvirtually all claims for chronic mental stress. Almost every work-related injury has multiple causes. Predominant cause will allow the WSIB to point to common and ordinary stressors and claim that they are more prominent than the work-related ones.
Although workers can appeal denied claims, appeals are slow and arduous. Many victims of chronic stress will give up in frustration, especially when they know that the appeals process itself will be a significant stressor that will further harm their health.
This is not just about compensation. The WSIB also provides help with return to work, retraining, and healthcare. Whenthe claims of people with chronic stress are denied, access to these services is also denied.
This differential treatment of people with chronic stress is discriminatory. It suggests that a stricter approach is required for people with chronic mental stress because that condition is somehow less deserving of compensation or less legitimate. This perpetuates the stigma around mental illness, negates progress made in this area, and sends us backwards in time.
Premier, we are committed to working with your government to ensure that all workers in our province can count on being cared for when they are injured at work. We call on you to have the WSIB go back to the drawingboard on these policies and demonstrate a real commitment to caring forworkers with mental health injuries in Ontario.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union
c: The Honourable Kevin Flynn, Minister of Labour
Elizabeth Witmer, Chair, WSIB
Tom Teahen, President and CEO, WSIB
Fred Hahn, President, CUPE Ontario