An injured federal employee in Alberta is entitled to the same
workers' compensation as any other person working in Alberta,
the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has decided in Martin
v. Alberta (Workers' Compensation Board), released on
March 28, 2014. In the same decision the SCC found that
the employer's warning of possible discipline, where an
employee fails to carry out a duty, is not so unusual that it
should give rise to a compensable stress claim.
Mr. Martin, a Parks Canada employee based in Alberta, claimed he
suffered from chronic onset psychological injury or stress due to
his work situation. Mr. Martin had a prolonged dispute regarding
whether Parks Canada employees should be armed. He claimed that
because of that dispute, Parks Canada denied him training
opportunities, assigned him to less challenging tasks and prevented
him from "performing the more pleasurable aspects" of his
job. Mr. Martin was also asked to respond to a request for
disclosure under the Access to Information Act, which was
found to have been the predominant reason for the onset of his
illness. This request was not disciplinary, or out of the course of
his job responsibilities.
There was medical proof of Mr. Martin's illness, but the
issue was whether it was a compensable "accident" under
Federal government employees are subject to the federal
Government Employees Compensation Act (GECA). The GECA
stipulates that provincial laws and
provincial workers' compensation boards have
jurisdiction to determine federal government
employee compensation claims. The Alberta Workers' Compensation
Board ruled that Mr. Martin was not eligible for compensation
benefits due to his psychological impairment.
The Alberta Workers' Compensation Board only accepts claims
for psychiatric or psychological disability when:
There is a confirmed
psychological or psychiatric diagnosis;
The work-related events or
stressors are the predominant cause of
The work-related events are
excessive or unusual in
comparison to the normal pressures and tensions experienced by the
average worker in a similar occupation; and,
objective confirmation of the events.
By definition, matters such as discipline, interpersonal
conflicts, union issues, workload and deadlines, performance
management are not considered to be "excessive" or
Based on this policy, Mr. Martin was denied benefits. This
decision was appealed all the way to the SCC. Different provinces
have different approaches to the issue of job-related psychiatric
illnesses, and there are no federal guidelines or policies which
The issue was whether this Alberta policy could limit a federal
employee's entitlements under the GECA, which spoke broadly
about employees being compensation for "personal injury by an
accident arising out of and in the course of his employment."
Martin argued that the broad language in the federal GECA ought not
to be restricted by an Alberta policy.
The SCC rejected Mr. Martin's position and held:
The history of the text of the
GECA as well as Parliament's stated intentions clearly
demonstrate that Parliament's purpose in enacting the GECA was
to rely on provincial laws and provincial boards to determine
federal workers' compensation claims, except where the GECA
clearly conflicts with provincial legislation.
Neither the GECA nor the WCA
definition of "accident" provides guidance as to when an
accident or injury is, in fact, caused by the worker's
The disparity in entitlements
between federal workers in different provinces which arises from
the scheme of the GECA is not "inconsistent with the
principles of federalism."
The Commission's conclusion
was "within a range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are
defensible in respect of the facts and law."
The SCC did not deal with an important issue that was raised in
argument but not raised as a formal challenge under the Charter:
"Is it constitutional to impose benefit eligibility
restrictions on psychiatric illnesses or disabilities that do not
exist for physical injuries? "
While both the SCC and the Alberta Court of Appeal refused to
deal with Charter issue on the basis that it was not properly
raised, readers interested in this issue should refer to the
2009 British Columbia Court of Appeal decision in Plesner
v. BC Hydro, 2009 BCCA 188. That case stands for the
proposition that it is unconstitutional to impose a higher standard
for entitlement for psychiatric illnesses than for physical
injuries. The authors predict that there will continue to be
constitutional challenges regarding any attempts to restrict the
scope of benefits for psychiatric illnesses.
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