The British Columbia Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT) has denied a correctional officer’s appeal for compensation for a mental disorder, which he attributed to an email received from an assistant deputy warden (ADW).
This ruling confirms the earlier decision made by a review officer from WorkSafeBC.
The correctional officer, who self-identified as an Indigenous person and received assistance from a WCAT Navigator, claimed that the content and tone of the September 2022 email constituted bullying and harassment, leading to his mental distress.
The email read, in part:
“From reviewing the communication over this email it could be perceived that you are attempting to undermine myself or my Department, Which could be considered insubordinate, and which I do not appreciate. The process is clarified and broken down.”
“This is not your Department, you have not stepped into any mentoring or acting positions, so to receive this email from a Correctional Officer posted in a living unit that has nothing to do with the Programs Department, or the staff within the Centre itself is confusing to me. These are directives sent out to staff within the Programs Department as highlighted below.”
However, in its October 2023 audioconference hearing, the Tribunal found that the claim did not meet the requirements for compensation under section 135 of the Workers Compensation Act.
The adjudication focused on whether the email was a traumatic event or a significant workplace stressor. The worker, supported by a physician’s diagnosis, argued that the email caused him depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. He further claimed that the ADW’s response was disrespectful, verbally aggressive, intimidating, and humiliating.
However, the Tribunal concluded that the email, while possibly blunt and rude, did not rise to the level of threatening or abusive behavior. It noted that the ADW likely felt that the worker was challenging his authority and that the worker’s questioning of the email and checklist (which prompted the response above) was mistaken for insubordination.
The decision also emphasized the employer-decision exclusion under the Act, suggesting that the email was a part of routine management communication relating to the worker’s performance, and did not constitute a significant workplace stressor leading to a mental disorder.
The Tribunal stated that conflicts and emotional exchanges in the workplace, especially regarding performance or disciplinary matters, are not uncommon and do not necessarily amount to bullying or harassment.
For more information, see A2300872 (Re), 2023 CanLII 105740 (BC WCAT)