As of January 1, 2018, claims for work-related chronic mental stress have been recognized in workplace compensation cases in Ontario. However, the vast majority of these chronic mental stress claims have been unsuccessful given the difficult criteria required to prove these claims.
A worker is generally entitled to benefits for chronic mental stress “if an appropriately diagnosed mental stress injury is caused by a substantial work-related stressor.” In addition, the WSIB decision-maker must be able to identify what has happened to cause chronic mental stress, including through the gathering of information from co-workers and supervisory staff. This process represents a significant barrier to gathering crucial evidence for the claim given that chronic mental stress is often caused by co-workers and supervisory staff who would likely refuse to confirm the existence of information required to proceed with a claim.
Further, workers must prove that their workplace was the “predominant cause” of chronic mental stress. WSIB Policy 15-03-14 defines predominant cause as “the primary or main cause of the mental stress injury – as compared to all of the other individual stressors”. The predominant cause test is a very high standard that is also used by many other Provinces’ workplace compensation boards such as those in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec. By comparison, workers submitting claims for physical injuries only have to show that their workplace was a contributing factor to the injury.
The difficulty in proving chronic mental stress highlights a significant gap between the treatment of physical injuries versus mental injuries. Mental injuries are still viewed as more subjective and suspect than physical ones, often to the detriment of workers trying to advance claims for chronic mental stress. It is not surprising then that the WSIB has rejected the vast majority of claims relating to work-related chronic mental stress in Ontario, although the number of claims submitted remains low. Whether the low number of claims points to a lack of education regarding these legislative changes or a feeling amongst workers that chronic mental stress claims are likely to fail remains to be seen.