Highlights of Noteworthy Decisions

Decision 1098 13
E. Smith - B. Young - M. Ferrari
  • Correctional officer
  • Jurisdiction, Tribunal (federal worker)
  • Stress, mental

A federal correctional officer appealed a decision of the Appeals Resolution Officer denying entitlement for traumatic mental stress.

The worker was regularly assigned to a maximum security unit. One of the prisoners regularly ties ligatures around her neck. Guards regularly removed the ligatures. However, the guards received new instructions that they were not to go in if the prisoner was talking, breathing or moving. The worker did not agree with the new instructions but she followed the directions. The prisoner died as a result of a ligature around her neck. The worker was not working at the time of the death, but she did later clean up the unit where the death occurred.
In this case, it was not necessary to determine whether the worker was correctly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. As discussed in Decision No. 483/11, the Board policy on stress is not limited to examples in the policy or to a diagnosis of PTSD, nor is it limited to situations in which the worker witnessed the event.
It was also not necessary to determine whether the mental stress provisions in s. 13(4) and (5) of the WSIA were incorporated into the definition under the federal Government Employees Compensation Act, because the Panel found that, even if the provisions of s. 13(4) and (5) applied, the worker was entitled to benefits.
The Panel found that the events in question were not expected in the normal course of employment. It is not normal even for a prison guard that the guard be under instructions to act in a way that incurs risk of death to an inmate, except as necessary to protect the guards or others, or to avoid violence. There was no evidence in this case that the instructions were provided for the purpose of protecting the guards or other prisoners. The death of the prisoner was sufficiently unusual that it fell within the requirements of s. 13(4) and (5) to be sudden and unexpected.
The appeal was allowed.