Home Featured Auto dealership employee, shoved and sworn at by the owner, has workers’ comp claim for acute workplace stress upheld

Auto dealership employee, shoved and sworn at by the owner, has workers’ comp claim for acute workplace stress upheld

by HR Law Canada

A worker’s long-standing claim for compensation due to acute stress resulting from a traumatic event at work has been upheld by the Nova Scotia Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal.

The worker, employed at an auto sales lot, filed a report in August 2016, claiming stress-related injuries that first emerged in November 2004. These symptoms were said to have escalated over time, leading to a loss of earnings.

It all came to a head on July 11, 2016, when the worker was asked to meet with the owner of the dealership and the bookkeeper. At issue were deductions from the worker’s pay for CPP and medical plan deductions, totally about $9,400. The employer expected him to repay this amount, but the worker refused.

“The Worker described leaving the office where the discussion/dispute happened and walking down the hallway away from the office with JM (the owner) following him,” the Tribunal said.

“The Worker turned and stated that JM gave him a two-handed push in the chest. The Worker wrote that he was fearful of being assaulted further and went to his car. The Worker wrote that JM followed him shouting profanities. The Worker stated that he could not believe what had happened and had not experienced something like that before.”

The initial claim was rejected by the Workers’ Compensation Board in February 2017, and a subsequent hearing in June 2017 upheld this decision, dismissing the worker’s claim of an acute reaction to a traumatic event.

The case was further complicated by the worker’s counsel raising a constitutional issue in February 2023, challenging the exclusion of gradual onset stress from compensation eligibility. This led to a bifurcated appeal process, focusing first on whether the worker suffered a compensable injury.

During the oral hearing, the worker’s counsel argued that the traumatic event, specifically an altercation with the employer in July 2016, where the worker was physically pushed and verbally abused, qualified as a compensable injury under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

The worker’s testimony, supported by medical evidence from a doctor and a psychiatrist, described a prolonged period of workplace abuse culminating in the 2016 incident. The psychiatrist’s assessment was particularly crucial, diagnosing the worker with an acute stress disorder that evolved into a trauma and stressor-related disorder.

“The psychological consequences of this altercation pushed the examinee from being able to work with mental health issues to being unable to work. The threat to his safety was a significant stress to the examinee and emotionally traumatic,” the psychologist wrote.

“I would opine that the acute altercation with alleged assault represents an acute trauma that decompensated this individual and resulted in his inability to remain in the workforce due to the acute decompensation in his mental health.”

The Tribunal’s decision hinged on the interpretation of the Act and the Board’s policy regarding traumatic events. Commissioner Levy found that the worker’s experience, corroborated by medical diagnoses and personal testimony, met the criteria for a traumatic event.

The ruling recognized the worker’s acute reaction to this event, acknowledging the psychological impact of the physical and verbal confrontation.

Consequently, the Tribunal directed the Workers’ Compensation Board to reassess the worker’s benefit entitlement, acknowledging the acute reaction to the traumatic event in 2016. This decision did not necessitate addressing the issue of gradual onset stress, as the acute reaction finding was sufficient for compensation.

For more information, see 2017-387-AD (Re), 2023 CanLII 113805 (NS WCAT)

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