Highlights of Noteworthy Decisions

Decision 177 16
R. McCutcheon - E. Tracey - M. Ferrari
  • Stress, mental
  • Board Directives and Guidelines (stress, mental) (traumatic event)
  • Board Directives and Guidelines (stress, mental) (cumulative trauma)
  • Teaching
  • Board Directives and Guidelines (stress, mental) (unexpected event)
  • Board Directives and Guidelines (stress, mental) (acute reaction)

The worker was an educational assistant in a special education class for developmentally-delayed students, including violent students. The worker appealed a decision of the Appeals Resolution Officer denying entitlement for traumatic mental stress.

One of the students was especially difficult to manage because he was very unpredictable. There was an escalation of violent behaviour in the few months, with three specific incidents during one week in April 2011. In one incident, the student attacked her, putting a long, deep gash on her hand, which became infected. In the second incident, the class was on a field trip but the student could not manage, so the teacher asked the worker to take the student back to school by taxi. The student continually attacked her during the taxi ride. In the third incident, the regular teacher was away, leaving the worker to deal with the student all day.
The Panel found that the worker suffered an acute reaction, because the evidence suggested that the worker would have been able to continue to manage at work with the occasional stress day but for the increased violent behaviour.
The worker was the object of physical violence that escalated in the months prior to the claim and culminated in the three incidents. These three culminating events were precisely identifiable and objectively traumatic. The incident in the taxi was particularly severe. The Panel found that the situation came within the cumulative effect provisions of the Board policy on traumatic mental stress.
The Panel agreed with recent Tribunal decisions that the interpretation of whether an event is traumatic must be viewed through the lens of the average worker rather than as a question of whether it was unusual in a certain occupation.
The Panel found that the events were unexpected in the worker's employment. The occupation of educational assistant dealing with students with special needs may involve the risk of physical interactions but such a worker should not be expected to endure constant, targeted, physical assaults.
The worker had entitlement for traumatic mental stress. The appeal was allowed.