Home Featured Not objectively traumatic: WorkSafeBC decision to deny mental health claim by airport security officer upheld on appeal

Not objectively traumatic: WorkSafeBC decision to deny mental health claim by airport security officer upheld on appeal

by HR Law Canada

The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT) has upheld a decision by WorkSafeBC denying a mental disorder claim filed by a security officer at an airport.

The claimant alleged that a series of workplace incidents led to the exacerbation of her pre-existing mental health conditions.

The original claim, filed in August 2022, stemmed from several incidents, including a colleague touching the worker’s back, an unexpected encounter with the same colleague, and an altercation with a cleaner. The worker argued that these events triggered severe stress and depression, recalling past trauma from an abusive relationship.

Despite these assertions, WorkSafeBC concluded that the incidents did not constitute significant workplace stressors.

The claimant, unsatisfied with this decision, sought a review by the Board’s Review Division, which upheld the original ruling in June 2023. The worker then appealed to the WCAT, asserting that her traumatic response was influenced by her history of abuse.

Incidents not objectively traumatic

The tribunal acknowledged the worker’s diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) by psychologist Dr. Lewkis. However, it emphasized that the objective nature of the incidents must be considered alongside the worker’s subjective experience.

WCAT found that the incidents, while distressing to the worker, were not objectively traumatic or excessive compared to typical workplace stressors.

In their ruling, the tribunal stated, “The incidental and brief contact, although inappropriate, is objectively innocuous, being similar to common contact that occurs in crowded public spaces.”

The WCAT also noted that the worker’s extreme reaction was significantly influenced by her prior traumatic experiences.

Employer made reasonable efforts

Moreover, the tribunal rejected the argument that the employer’s failure to permanently separate the worker’s and colleague’s shifts constituted abusive or threatening behavior. It was determined that the employer had made reasonable efforts to accommodate the worker, but perfect separation was not feasible under the circumstances.

Ultimately, the WCAT concluded that the incidents did not meet the criteria for compensable mental disorders as defined by the Workers Compensation Act and relevant policies. The worker’s appeal was denied, but the tribunal ordered WorkSafeBC to reimburse her for the costs of the neuropsychological consultation.

Key takeaways

  1. Objective and Subjective Analysis: The ruling underscores the necessity of balancing both objective and subjective perspectives when assessing workplace incidents for mental disorder claims. Even if a worker subjectively finds an incident traumatic, it must also be objectively significant.
  2. General Characteristics and Trauma: The decision highlights that a worker’s general characteristics, such as past trauma, can influence their perception of events. However, these characteristics do not override the need for the incidents to be objectively significant or traumatic.
  3. Employer’s Duty and Limitations: Employers must take reasonable steps to address reported harassment and separate conflicting parties. However, perfect adherence to such arrangements may not always be possible, and minor lapses do not necessarily constitute abusive or compensable conduct.

For more information, see A2301359 (Re), 2024 CanLII 43001 (BC WCAT).

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