The British Columbia government has introduced legislation to
modify the WorkSafe BC approach to mental stress, and to compensate
for bullying and harassment in the workplace.
The proposed amendment to the Workers Compensation Act (British
Columbia) is significant and will result in new types of
claims for compensation under the Act. It is hard to predict
the full impact, but it is likely to be in the tens of
millions of dollars per year.
The important change is in the test for determining whether the
mental disorder is compensable. Under the current law,
workers can only claim for "an acute reaction to
a sudden and unexpected traumatic event".
Under the new law, that is changed to "a
reaction to one or more traumatic events" or
"predominantly caused by a significant work-related
stressor, including bullying or harassment, or a cumulative series
of significant work-related stressors".
Both the current and new law are about injuries in the
course of employment and require a diagnosis under the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Most
importantly, the Act will still exclude from compensation
problems caused by changes to working conditions, discipline or
Nevertheless, the types of workplace incidents and issues that
can lead to mental stress claims is intentionally broadened
and we can expect to see more claims of bullying and
harassment going to WorkSafe BC. Some of these new
claims might have been covered by private disability benefits
plans, and to that extent there will be a savings for insurers and
the employer buyers of those plans. But there is bound to be
a significant incremental cost to WorkSafe BC,
which ultimately falls on all employers in the province.
Also, to the extent claims will be made to WorkSafe BC instead
of to an insurer (or not at all), employers will face a larger cost
and administrative burden to respond.
The Bill had second reading on May 3, 2012, and could be passed
soon. We will watch the impact with interest.
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