Stressed-out workers in B.C. to get expanded workers’ compensation coverage

New coverage will include cumulative stress in addition to that caused by one event
||Last Updated: 11/07/2011

British Columbia workers who are suffering from high levels of stress in their jobs will soon be eligible for workers' compensation benefits under new legislation proposed by the provincial government.

The B.C. government announced it planned to amend the province’s Workers’ Compensation Act to provide expanded benefits for workers suffering from cumulative workplace stress. Currently, the act specifies benefits for mental stress will only be provided to those whose stress is the result of “acute reaction to a sudden and traumatic event.”

The amendments will specify that stress caused by normal workplace events, such as firing, discipline or new working conditions will not qualify for benefits. Only stress caused by extraordinary circumstances, such as harassment or unfair treatment, will make a worker eligible for benefits.

In announcing the proposed amendments, B.C. Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid acknowledged the increased costs the expanded coverage could lead to, but pointed out the hidden costs caused by untreated mental illness in the workplace.

"We want to have psychologically healthy workplaces and many employers have taken those steps, but we need to do more of that," MacDiarmid told CBC News. "If you're a worker and you've had a chronic problem at work and you continue to work, this can really decrease productivity. It can cause sick time. It can cause actual accidents in the workplace."

Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories already have workers’ compensation coverage for workplace mental stress.

The B.C. amendments will also decrease the time of cohabitation needed for survivor benefits for common-law couples without children from three years to two, and adjusts compensation levels for injured apprentices.

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