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Bus driver’s mental disorder claim upheld by workers’ comp tribunal in B.C.

by HR Law Canada

A bus driver’s claim for mental disorder caused by workplace incidents — including being “mooned” by a co-worker and being exposed to vulgar comments — has been upheld by the B.C. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT).

The case, heard via written submissions, revolved around the bus driver’s allegations of bullying, harassment, and exposure to a hostile work environment over several months.

The decision addressed whether the worker’s mental disorder, diagnosed as an adjustment disorder, was compensable under the Workers Compensation Act. The employer had challenged the original decision by WorkSafeBC and the subsequent affirmation by the Review Division, but the WCAT ultimately denied the employer’s appeal.

Allegations and incidents

The bus driver filed a teleclaim application on Sept. 9, 2022, where she cited bullying and harassment as the primary causes of her psychological distress. Detailed incidents included vulgar conversations, confrontations, and inappropriate behaviour by her colleagues.

The tribunal focused on three key incidents deemed significant stressors by WorkSafeBC:

Vulgar and sexual comments: Between January and April 2022, the worker was exposed to numerous inappropriate conversations and behaviour on the bus, including sexual and derogatory comments about women.

Verbal confrontation: In April 2022, a foreman allegedly yelled at the worker and accused her of spreading rumours, causing her significant distress.

“Mooning” incidents: The worker reported being “mooned” on three occasions by a co-worker, which she found particularly distressing and inappropriate.

    The worker also detailed several other incidents, including alleged misleading instructions from a foreman designed to make her appear incompetent, further alienating her from her crew.

    Tribunal’s findings

    The tribunal upheld WorkSafeBC’s findings that the bus driver’s experiences constituted significant stressors leading to her adjustment disorder. The tribunal found the worker’s claims credible and corroborated by the employer’s internal investigation, which had substantiated the worker’s harassment complaint.

    “The sexual, vulgar, and lurid comments the worker was exposed to were excessive in nature and intensity from what would be expected to occur in the worker’s employment and amount to a significant stressor,” the tribunal noted in its decision.

    The tribunal rejected the employer’s request for further investigation and the assistance of an independent health professional, stating that the evidence provided by a psychologist who assessed the worker was sufficient and reliable.

    Employer’s appeal and arguments

    The employer argued that the incidents described by the worker were either uncorroborated or did not meet the threshold of significant stressors required for a compensable mental disorder claim. They also contended that the worker’s pre-existing psychological conditions and previous experiences with harassment at another employer had distorted her perception of reality.

    However, the tribunal found that these arguments were speculative and not supported by the evidence. The employer’s disciplinary letter itself corroborated the worker’s claims, stating that the complaints regarding inappropriate behaviour were founded.

    The tribunal also addressed the issue of whether the incidents could be considered traumatic. It noted the bus driver had not described any of the incidents as “emotionally shocking.”

    “A number of the incidents happened over time and appear, to the worker, to have been cumulatively upsetting as opposed to shocking at the moment,” it said, ruling the worker had been exposed to two significant stressors. (Being exposure to lurid, vulgar, and sexual comments; and the “mooning” incidents.)

    Conclusion

    In denying the employer’s appeal, the tribunal affirmed that the worker developed a compensable mental disorder — diagnosed as an adjustment order — as a result of significant work-related stressors.

    As a result, she can continue to receive the benefits and support outlined by WorkSafeBC for her adjustment disorder.

    For more information, see A2301595 (Re), 2024 CanLII 63012 (BC WCAT).

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