Highlights of Noteworthy Decisions
- Stress, mental
- Board Directives and Guidelines (stress, mental) (traumatic event)
- Stress, mental (effect of employment decisions)
The worker was a police officer who was responsible for a civilian staff of about 40 employees. The worker appealed a decision of the Appeals Resolution Officer denying entitlement for traumatic mental stress. The worker set high performance standards, which sometimes met with resistance, not only from the employees but also from the police association. In August 2001, the worker was supervising an employee who was missing a substantial period of time from work. On two occasions in August, the worker and a supervisor attended the employee's apartment. It was noted that the employee appeared to be in distress. On September 3, a message to the employee was left but the call was not returned. The worker and a supervisor attended at the worker's apartment again. The door was locked and there was no response. The worker could see that the balcony doors were open. The worker and supervisor, after consulting with the duty inspector, got the building superintendent to open the door. They found the bedroom door locked and received no response. They removed the door handle and entered but the room was empty. When leaving the apartment, they encountered the employee's brother, who was upset that they had entered the apartment. Later that day, he called 911 to report a break and enter by the worker. The worker was advised by her duty inspector that no crime had been committed. The brother or the employee got the police association involved. The association called a different duty inspector to report that the worker had broken into the employee's apartment. The following day, the worker received a call at work from her duty inspector advising that a criminal investigation had been initiated. The worker left work crying and sought medical treatment. The Panel was satisfied that there was a causal relationship between the incident and the worker's emotional difficulties. The worker suffered an acute reaction when informed of the criminal investigation. The information provided to the worker in the phone call was both sudden and unexpected, in that the worker had gone to sleep the night before with the assurance that no criminal investigation was to take place. For entitlement, the event must be not only sudden and unexpected but also traumatic. Board policy lists examples of sudden and unexpected traumatic events. In the examples, it is not necessary that the worker be personally at risk of physical violence or injury. For example, a worker may witness a horrific accident involving someone else. The Panel accepted that the news received by the worker on September 4 was objectively emotionally traumatic. In making that determination, the Panel also took into consideration the particular circumstances of the worker, who was a by-the-book police office whose integrity and reputation were particularly important to her given her insistence of discipline and compliance with rules. Section 13(5) of the WSIA states that a worker is not entitled to benefits for mental stress caused by the employer's decisions or actions related to the worker's employment. In this case, an officer with no supervisory authority over the worker, who had not spoken to the worker and who was not aware of the worker's specific actions on September 3, ordered a criminal investigation following a request from the police association. The Panel found that this did not represent an employer's decisions or actions relating to the worker's employment, in that it did not involve actions by the worker's own supervisor or manager. The fact that the duty inspector who authorized the investigation was superior in rank to the worker was not sufficient to conclude that the investigation was an employer decision in relation to the worker's employment within the meaning of s. 13(5). The worker had entitlement for traumatic mental stress. The appeal was allowed.