Regulatory changes took effect on Tuesday, April 16, 2019 that expanded the presumption for mental health disorders caused by work. The presumption only applies to WorkSafeBC claims and eligible occupations. The initial list of eligible occupations included correctional officers, emergency medical assistants, firefighters, police officers, and sheriffs. The list has now been expanded to also include emergency dispatchers, licensed practical nurses, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses, and Health-care assistants (care aides).
The way the presumption works is that if a worker in an eligible occupation is exposed to one or more traumatic events at work and is diagnosed with a mental disorder by a psychiatrist or psychologist, the mental disorder is presumed to have been caused by work.
WorkSafeBC defines a “traumatic” event as an emotionally shocking event. In most cases, the worker must have experienced or witnessed the traumatic event. This presumption allows WorkSafeBC to recognize that workers employed in eligible occupations, due to the nature of their work, may be exposed to traumatic events as part of their employment.
As with any presumption, it can be rebutted. The standard of proof to be applied in determining whether the presumption has been rebutted is proof on a balance of probabilities. If the evidence is more heavily weighted in favour of a conclusion that something other than the employment caused the mental disorder, then the contrary will be proved, and the presumption is rebutted. It is not enough to say the presumption is rebutted because there is a lack of evidence to support work causation.
In addition, further amendments introduced on April 11, 2019, extended the cancer, heart disease and mental-health disorder presumptions to wildfire fighters, fire investigators and firefighters working for First Nations and Indigenous organizations.
Employers are encouraged to take steps to create mentally healthy workplaces for all employees. One such way is to have a flexible benefits package that allows people to access psychological help and counselling.
By Mark Grabas, Pushor Mitchell