At a conference on mental stress claims in Mississauga, Ontario on November 6, lawyer Asha Rampersad of Toronto-based Bernardi Human Resource Law, and chief prevention officer at the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Ron Kelusky, gave talks on how employers should approach the new Chronic Mental Stress Policy from Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
The policy allows for Ontario workers to make WSIB claims for chronic mental stress stemming from stressors beyond the pressures of normal job duties, including bullying and harassment, humiliating events, abusive or threatening interpersonal conflict, lack of managerial support or workload issues, etc. Chronic mental stress claims can increase premiums for employers, so employers must be proactive in order to avoid increasing costs.
Rampersad’s first tip for employers was to document everything they do to prevent chronic mental stress in the workplace. A claimant is not entitled to compensation if their stress is related to management actions such as discipline, demotions, terminations or transfers, or changes in work hours or productivity expectations. “It’s becoming increasingly more important to document what you’re doing because whether you’re going into a grievance arbitration or you’re going to a human rights litigation proceeding or court action, the first thing they’re going to ask you for is what you can prove, what is documented, what has been done,” Rampersad said. She also suggested that it’s sometimes worth reporting an employee to the WSIB with details of their situation and employer actions before the employee files a claim; this can prevent fraudulent claims and shorten the investigative process.
As for preventing chronic mental stress in the first place, Kelusky said that a common stressor for employees is management that claims to have policies and procedures related to workplace grievances, but doesn’t follow them, “[People] feel that they’re powerless, they have nowhere to go. If they make a complaint, who’s going to listen…? Or somebody says, ‘Just go to the policies.’ So, we’ve lost that general ability to communicate; we’re so busy, we tend to rely on policies.” He suggested that employers should foster a compassionate workplace culture where employees feel comfortable approaching their supervisors with personal issues affecting their work, and that employees should know their issues will be handled professionally.
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