Highlights of Noteworthy Decisions

Decision 895 22
J. Smith - S. Sahay - M. Ferrari
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Psychotraumatic disability
  • Initial entitlement (eligibility)
  • Presumptions (first responder)

The issue on appeal was whether the worker had entitlement to benefits for PTSD and, if so, under which WSIB policy.

By way of background, the worker claimed that while working as a corrections officer, she developed a mental stress injury of PTSD, resulting from being assigned to a mental health watch on December 16, 2019, in which she was responsible for monitoring a transgender inmate on suicide watch on a closed circuit camera. She claimed that the assignment was not manageable for her because of her own childhood trauma, which she advised the employer and the union of. However, she had to continue in the assignment for the duration of her shift and extra hours afterwards. She began missing time from work on December 19, 2019 and was diagnosed with PTSD on January 2, 2020.
The appeal was allowed. The Panel found that the worker's entitlement for PTSD was established under the First Responders policy, and as such, it was not necessary to consider her entitlement under the CMS and TMS policies.
The Panel reasoned that there was no dispute that the worker worked as a first responder, as a corrections officer, and therefore the policy applied. Second, there was no dispute that she was a first responder on or after April 6, 2014, or that the mental health condition at issue developed in 2019, at which time the worker was employed as a corrections officer. Third, the worker was diagnosed with PTSD in February 2020, by a psychologist. Therefore, these components of the policy were satisfied. Fourth, the Panel found that the presumption provided in the First Responders policy, that the worker developed PTSD in the course of and out of her employment, was not rebutted. On the contrary, the Panel found that the evidence supported that the worker developed PTSD as a result of her assignment on December 16, 2019, to monitor an inmate on suicide watch. As such, the Panel found that the presumption applied.
The Panel acknowledged that the triggering events on December 16, 2019 were not of the usual threatening type that met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. However, there is no requirement for the triggering event to be one that is objectively traumatic or involving threats of violence or actual violence under section 14. Rather, the presumption is only rebutted when work is shown not to be a significant contributing factor in the development of PTSD. In this case, the Panel found that the worker's childhood history of trauma may have predisposed her to develop PTSD. However, it was not the childhood abuse alone that resulted in her development of PTSD. In addition, it was relevant that the worker was never treated or diagnosed with a psychological condition in respect of her childhood trauma, and she was able to work and function in her life normally prior to December 16, 2019.