Highlights of Noteworthy Decisions

Decision 147 10
24/01/2013
M. Keil - M. Christie - M. Ferrari
  • Police
  • Stress, mental
  • Telephone operator
  • Board Directives and Guidelines (stress, mental) (traumatic event)

The worker appealed a decision of the Appeals Resolution Officer denying entitlement for traumatic mental stress.

The worker was a dispatcher for a police department. On February 10, 2007, the worker took a call from a person who was wanted by the police and wanted to turn himself in. The worker initiated a possible pick-up of the caller by a patrol car. Fifteen minutes later, the caller called again, this time speaking to a co-worker. The caller stated that he had not been picked up by a patrol car but still wanted to turn himself in. The caller said he would go to the nearest police station himself.
The caller did not, in fact, turn himself in. One week later, he killed two men during an altercation. The worker was unaware that the killer was the caller to whom she had spoken until March 1, 2007.
The Panel noted that, in Decision No. 1932/09, the Tribunal granted the co-worker entitlement for traumatic mental stress.
Board policy provides that a worker is entitled to benefits for traumatic mental stress that is an acute reaction to a sudden and unexpected traumatic event. A claimed traumatic event must be clearly and precisely identifiable, objectively traumatic and unexpected in the normal of the worker's employment.
The telephone call that the worker took on February 10 was a routine call, as was the advice given by the worker at the time. However, a routine work action can have unexpected and severe consequences. There was a linear and strong connection between the worker taking the routine call on February 10, the killing of the two men by the caller on February 17, and the worker finding out on March 1 that the caller had not turned himself in but had killed the two men. The worker's response to that information was instantaneous and acute.
The worker had been performing this job for 15 years without incident. The routine call on February 10 was not unexpected in the course of a dispatcher's job duties. It would not be uncommon or unexpected to receive calls about imminent or actual violence. What would be unexpected would be delayed and grievous consequences to a call that no one could reasonably anticipate. The worker later came to understand that she was not to blame for what the caller did, but it was still objectively traumatic at the time and was not an event that a dispatcher would normally encounter in daily routine.
The event was clearly and precisely identifiable, objectively traumatic and unexpected in the normal course of the worker's employment. She suffered an acute reaction. The worker had entitlement for traumatic mental stress. The appeal was allowed.