Home Featured ‘Clearly irrational:’ B.C. court orders new hearing for security guard who was denied workers’ comp for mental disorder

‘Clearly irrational:’ B.C. court orders new hearing for security guard who was denied workers’ comp for mental disorder

by HR Law Canada

The Supreme Court of British Columbia has ordered a new hearing for a security guard who was denied workers’ compensation benefits for his mental disorder.

It concluded that the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT) failed to ensure that critical evidence was considered in its original decision.

J.T., employed by Scarlet West Coast Security Ltd. at a remote mining camp, claimed that he developed a mental disorder due to numerous incidents of bullying and harassment during his employment from November 2018 to March 2019. The Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) initially denied his claim, a decision later upheld by WCAT, which concluded that the significant work-related stressors J.T. experienced were not the predominant cause of his adjustment disorder.

Ruling ‘patently unreasonable’: Court

Justice L.M. Lyster ruled that WCAT’s decision was “patently unreasonable,” particularly in its reliance on a psychological assessment conducted by Dr. Pappas. The assessment was deemed insufficient as Dr. Pappas had not been provided with complete information about all 89 incidents reported by J.T.

“It is clearly irrational to think that a sound opinion on whether a number of significant work-related stressors were the predominant cause of a person’s mental disorder when the psychologist providing the opinion was not informed of all of the significant work-related stressors in issue,” the court said.

Terminated without cause

J.T.’s ordeal began when he was terminated without cause on March 13, 2019. Throughout his employment, he reported multiple instances of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment and threats to his safety.

Among the 89 alleged incidents, several stood out for their severity and impact on his mental health. One such incident involved J.T. being mocked by his supervisor in front of a client on Dec. 19, 2018, with the supervisor making inappropriate comments suggesting J.T. would be “sold into sexual slavery.”

Another significant alleged incident occurred on Jan. 24, 2019, when an off-duty co-worker acted aggressively, pacing behind the counter and standing between J.T. and the exit, making him feel unsafe.

In another distressing event on Feb. 23, 2019, J.T. was mocked about his history of alcohol abuse and rehabilitation by a co-worker. The bullying continued into March, with an incident on March 8, 2019, where a driver wagged his finger at J.T. and told him to “stay sober.”

One particularly distressing incident involved a confrontation over confiscated ammunition, during which J.T. felt his life was threatened.

“According to J.T., he was required to confiscate the ammunition alone at night,” the court said. “While doing so, the owner of the ammunition slammed the door of the security office open in a threatening and shocking manner while carrying a long black object, and shouted whether he wanted to ‘see (his) fun or what.’ There was no gun in the case when the owner opened it. J.T. confiscated the ammunition.”

Despite these experiences, WCAT accepted Dr. Pappas’ conclusion that the predominant cause of J.T.’s adjustment disorder was his employer’s failure to provide back pay, not the workplace bullying and harassment. This conclusion was drawn without Dr. Pappas having access to the full context of J.T.’s reported incidents, which was a central issue in the judicial review.

Breach of procedural fairness

Justice Lyster also found that WCAT breached procedural fairness by failing to ensure J.T. received a letter detailing what evidence would be considered at the oral hearing in advance. J.T. only learned of the letter’s contents during the hearing, which hampered his ability to prepare adequately.

The court’s decision mandates that the matter be remitted to WCAT for a new oral hearing. WCAT is expected to take necessary steps to avoid repeating the identified errors, including ensuring that a new psychological assessment includes all pertinent information.

Lesson from this ruling

  1. Comprehensive Evidence Collection: Ensure that all relevant incidents and stressors reported by employees are documented and considered in mental health assessments and compensation claims.
  2. Procedural Fairness: Maintain transparency and ensure that employees are fully informed about the evidence and procedures involved in hearings affecting their claims.
  3. Prompt and Adequate Response: Address employee complaints promptly and comprehensively, including issues of bullying and harassment, to prevent escalation and potential legal disputes.

For more information, see J.T. v British Columbia (Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal), 2024 BCSC 994 (CanLII).

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