Canada’s Top Court Confirms Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Board Policy for Chronic Onset Stress

In Martin v. Alberta (Workers’ Compensation Board), 2014 SCC 25, released on March 28, 2014, the SCC found Alberta’s WCB policy on chronic onset stress claims to be reasonable. The policy requires work-related events to be excessive or unusual in comparison with the normal pressures and tensions experienced by the average worker in a similar occupation before the WCB will accept a claim for chronic onset stress: see WCB Policy 03-01 Part II. In this case, the Parks Canada employee claimed chronic onset stress after receiving a letter from his employer that requested compliance with a specific workplace matter and cautioned the potential of disciplinary action for non-compliance.

The SCC found that this claim was reasonably adjudicated by Alberta’s WCB, and that when adjudicating claims under the Government Employees Compensation Act (GECA), provincial boards and authorities are required to apply their own provincial laws and policies, except where they directly conflict with the GECA. Compensation for Government of Canada employees is determined at the same rate and conditions – and by the same board, officers or authorities – as under provincial law.

Implications for Alberta Employers

This case is welcome news for employers. The Alberta WCB’s policy of requiring employees who seek relief for chronic onset stress to have been subjected to excessive or unusual work-related events is firmly entrenched. Alberta employers can also quite comfortably impose reasonable adverse employment conditions without fear that the action itself will support a compensable claim for psychological injury under Alberta’s workers’ compensation laws.

If you have questions or would like to discuss workers’ compensation claims or premiums, or disability management generally, please contact any member of our Labour and Employment Group.