New legislation facilitates workplace stress claims.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety defines workplace stress as the “harmful physical and emotional responses that can happen when there is a conflict between job demands on the employee and the amount of control an employee has over meeting these demands.”
The growing recognition of the problem of workplace stress has led the Ontario government to pass the Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act (Budget Measures) 2017 last May that amended the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 to entitle workers to benefits as a result of mental stress. These amendments are effective January 1, 2018. Most other provinces already have or are in the process of initiating legislation that recognizes how mental stress impacts workers.
WSIB Adds Two New Policies
Since then, however, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) of Ontario has sought input from worker and employer stakeholder groups as to how these amendments should be best implemented. The result is the creation of two stand-alone policies related to workplace stress: “Traumatic Mental Stress” and “Chronic Mental Stress.” These policies will be effective January 1, 2018.
Traumatic Mental Stress
Traumatic mental stress arises when, in the course of employment, a traumatic event has occurred such as a criminal act, horrific accident involving death or threatened death or serious harm to the worker, co-worker, a worker's family or others.
Chronic Mental Stress
To receive benefits for chronic mental stress, an employee must have suffered “an appropriately diagnosed mental stress injury . . . caused by a substantial work-related stressor arising out of and in the course of the worker's employment.” A stressor is considered to be substantial “if it is excessive in intensity and/or duration in comparison to the normal pressures and tensions experienced by workers in similar circumstances.” Harassment is considered a substantial stressor, but interpersonal conflicts between workers and their superiors are not, unless the conflict rises to the level of harassment a reasonable person would consider to be abuse. An employee is not entitled to benefits as a result of stress caused by an employer's decisions such as termination, demotion, transfer, discipline, change in working hours, or productivity expectations.
Adjudication of a chronic mental stress claim must be preceded by a diagnosis of chronic mental stress according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as DSM-5), a publication of the American Psychiatric Association that defines and classifies mental disorders.
Management should create an environment that reduces stress.
Owner-managers should read the relevant material on the WSIB website and consult a labour lawyer as to how this new legislation will apply to their particular workplace. Naturally, it is in management’s best interest to create an environment that lessens stress. This can be achieved by a review of existing workplace practices to determine what needs to be changed, phased out, or added.
The workplace should be not only safe but also an ergonomically comfortable place to work. Compensation should be competitive and the jobs should be enriched by rotation and opportunities for advancement. Hiring practices should be fine tuned to the culture of the company so that new employees will be selected to fit comfortably with the existing staff.
Encourage employees to provide feedback about their job and responsibilities. To do a good job and for the company to achieve its strategic goals, employees need training. Employees should know what you expect from them and understand what they are expected to contribute to the growth of the company. There must be no room for harassment and plenty of room for thanks and appreciation when the job is well done.
Know When an Employee Is under Stress
Determining whether an employee is under stress is difficult. Even more difficult is determining whether the stress is job related or created by personal matters happening off the job. Regardless of the source, stress will impact the functioning of the employee and management should be attuned to signature signs of stress. Here are a few indicators to watch for:
a pattern of arriving late, leaving early, taking longer breaks than allotted
an increase in mistakes
forgetting to attend meetings
late or poorly done assignments
constant arguing during meetings
abnormal frustration with clients or other staff members
overreaction to comments by other employees.
Understand Your Workplace
It is important for owner-managers to be aware that the legislation recognizing job-related stress will impact their workplace and that stress-related claims are going to be part of the cost of doing business. Management must take employees’ concerns seriously and work to minimize stress-related claims that will impact not only the morale of all employees but also the bottom line.
This article is reprinted from the newsletter BUSINESS MATTERS with the permission of CPA Canada. BUSINESS MATTERS is a bimonthly newsletter prepared by the CPA Canada for the clients of its members.
BUSINESS MATTERS deals with a number of complex issues in a concise manner; it is recommended that accounting, legal or other appropriate professional advice should be sought before acting upon any of the information contained therein.
Although every reasonable effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this letter, no individual or organization involved in either the preparation or distribution of this letter accepts any contractual, tortious, or any other form of liability for its contents or for any consequences arising from its use.
Richard Fulcher, CPA, CA – Author; Patricia Adamson, M.A., M.I.St. – CPA Canada Editor.