THE BRITISH COLUMBIA government recently passed amendments to the Workers’ Compensation Act (Bill 14) which will significantly impact employers. These amendments come into effect on July 1, 2012. The amendments expand workers’ compensation to include diagnosed mental disorders caused by bullying or harassment. Employers will be required to have formal prevention policies for harassment and bullying.

The original Bill 14 [tabled last fall] was amended to address obvious concerns; nevertheless the current legislation will continue to have significant impact on employers.

The new amendments provide that in some circumstances a worker will be entitled to compensation for a mental disorder (as opposed to mental stress) that does not result from an injury for which the worker is otherwise entitled to compensation. Compensation will be available if the mental disorder is:

(a) “an acute reaction to one or more traumatic events arising out of and in the course of employment; or

(b) is predominantly caused by a significant work-related stressor including bullying or harassment. or a cumulative series of significant work-related stressors, arising out of and in the course of the worker’s employment.”

The mental disorder must be diagnosed by a psychiatrist or a psychologist and must not have been caused by “a decision of the worker’s employer relating to the worker’s employment including a decision to change the work to be performed or the working conditions to discipline the worker or to terminate the worker’s employment”. While the government’s action to eliminate workplace bullying and harassment is laudable, the practical and financial consequence of these amendments will in my view be significant especially to small and medium-sized businesses. It is unknown at this time what the financial impacts of these amendments will be.

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