By: Joanne Hall
Workplace stress: A collective challenge
Workplace stress is so common, many don’t know how to differentiate between the normal anxieties of day-to-day responsibilities and stress that is so crippling it needs recognition and support.
April 28th is World Day for Safety and Health at Work – a day to raise awareness that workplace stress has become a global issue. This year, the theme of the International Labour Organization (ILO) is “Workplace Stress: A collective challenge.” To address this theme, the ILO will feature a current global trends report on work-related stress and how we can build a preventative approach to a very large problem.
Workplace stress in Ontario
Before 1998, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) considered stress the same as any other work-related disability. As a result, if the WSIB found that the workplace significantly contributed to a stress-related disability, the injured worker could be compensated for lost earnings while unable to work due to that disability.
After 1998, compensation was no longer available for mental stress caused by long-term exposure to chronic workplace stressors. Workers could only make a claim for disabilities resulting from sudden and unexpected traumatic events or post-traumatic stress disorder.
In 2014, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal agreed that the limit on compensation is contrary to Canada’s Charter of Rights. As a result, workers disabled by chronic stress can appeal their case all the way to the highest level and receive workers’ compensation. This takes years of litigation and legal representation. It adds stress to those already psychologically disabled by stress.
The Injured Workers Consultants Community Legal Clinic
The Injured Workers Consultants Community Legal Clinic (IWC) is lobbying for legislative change that respects the Charter of Rights. This work is part of the IWC mandate. It helps people deal with workplace stress through many avenues—lobbying for law reform; public legal education; community development supporting injured worker organizations; and representation in individual cases.
The clinic is urging the government to repeal the 1998 limit on compensation, to expand the list of occupations to include other similarly stressful types of work where workers are frequently exposed to stressful and traumatic circumstances, and to improve access to psychological and psychiatric treatment so that first responders and other Ontarians can get access to the mental health services that they need.
Impactful change is possible
Working together, clinics and government can make changes that have a real impact on quality of work life for people and for society. Recent major achievements are proof of the positive impact that IWC has had in improving workplace safety and health:
In a submission to the Ontario government, the IWC noted that most work-related mental health problems are not caused by a sudden and unexpected traumatic event. Workplace violence issues like bullying and sexual harassment are significant concerns in workplace health safety.
In a step toward addressing the issue of work-related mental health disabilities, Ontario passed a bill in April 2016 that will expedite access to workers’ compensation, resources and timely treatment for first responders (e.g. firefighters, EMS workers) diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), without the need to prove that their job was the cause.
Preventing workplace stress may be impossible, but organizations can certainly work together to come closer to improving supports for people who suffer consequences due to stress. The accomplishments of the IWC and the many other LAO clinics who support Ontario’s workers offer hope for people suffering from stress.
Joanne Hall is a Communication Advisor at LAO. She has over ten years’ experience with LAO in a variety of areas including several years at College Park Duty Counsel Office.