Lengthy legal battle spurs WCB to re evaluate psychological claims

A contentious workers’ compensation claim, which has dragged through the system for four years, has now spurred the Yukon Workers’…

A contentious workers’ compensation claim, which has dragged through the system for four years, has now spurred the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board to clarify how it deals with psychological claims.

Charolette O’Donnell, a workers’ compensation board employee, filed for workers’ compensation two days after being suspended from her job in 2002.

She claimed her suspension, and subsequent firing, left her psychologically injured — with difficulty eating, sleeping and concentrating.

Her claim was originally approved, then three years later, denied.

More than four years and myriad appeal processes later, a recent judgment from Yukon’s Supreme Court will see the case thrown back to the workers’ compensation tribunal for reconsideration.

Just two weeks after the judgment was handed down, the workers’ compensation board released a proposed new policy on adjudication of psychological disorders.

It is now looking for public and stakeholder feedback.

Under the proposed policy, O’Donnell’s claim would not be covered, said Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board president Valerie Royle.

Although the policy has been on the books for more than two years, the board released it for consultation now to capitalize on the public attention that’s been given to O’Donnell’s case.

“Once we saw the court case, we thought that with the publicity there’d be an opportunity to get some really good feedback,” said Royle.

Typically, when the board puts policies out for public consultation it gets little response, other than from stakeholder groups.

“So we thought this would be an opportunity to capitalize on that case — bring it top of mind,” she said.

Currently, the board has no policy to deal with psychological disorders.

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Act guides how those injuries are dealt with, and it leaves a lot open to interpretation, said Royle.

The proposed three-page policy defines the process of how psychological injuries would be categorized and compensated.

In it, injuries must meet two criteria before compensation would be considered.

First, the injury must be caused by the job.

And second, a medical professional — such as a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist — not a general practitioner, must clinically diagnose the injury.

If passed, the policy would also nix the worker’s option to file a compensation claim for “mental stress” from things like getting fired, getting disciplined or getting a performance evaluation.

“Those will not be compensable except under exceptional circumstances,” said Royle.

“As an example: a worker works at a fair-size organization and the employer is not happy with their performance, so in front of all the co-workers he starts screaming and yelling and berating that employee — that’s exceptional,” she said.

“That’s a traumatic event and we would consider it.”

Every jurisdiction across the country has its own policy on dealing with psychological injuries.

March 5 is the deadline to submit comments on the Yukon’s new policy.

See a draft of the proposal at the workers’ compensation website at www.wcb.yk.ca.