Disability InsurersEmployersLawyers

Alberta Employee Alleges Psychological Harm from ‘Toxic Workplace’

June 4, 2024, from HRD Canada

The Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation recently reviewed a significant case involving a worker’s claim for psychological injury. The worker, an assistant branch manager, argued that a hostile work environment led to his psychological injury, which was initially denied by the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) and later by the Dispute Resolution and Decision Review Body (DRDRB).

Case Background and Relevant Policies

The worker claimed his psychological injury stemmed from continuous emotional and psychological stress caused by his manager and a co-worker, starting in late 2021. He reported being taken to the hospital for anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts due to the toxic environment.

The central question was whether the worker’s condition met the criteria for a chronic onset psychological injury as defined by WCB policies. According to WCB Policy 03-01, Part II, Application 6, Question 7, the criteria include:

  1. A confirmed psychological or psychiatric DSM-5 diagnosis.
  2. Predominant cause of the injury being work-related events or stressors.
  3. Work-related events being excessive or unusual compared to normal pressures.
  4. Objective confirmation of the events.

The DRDRB determined that the worker met the first two criteria, leading the Appeals Commission to focus on the excessiveness and objective confirmation of the alleged events.

Employee’s Testimonies and Evidence

The worker argued that he worked in a toxic environment and that the employer’s human resources had no plan to address these issues. He claimed he was terminated when he asked for help and continued to suffer from anxiety due to workplace events.

Supporting evidence included an audio recording of a conversation with the manager, a text message from the manager, and a confidential witness statement from the WCB’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) report. The worker, with no prior history of mental illness, testified that the hostile work environment profoundly affected his mental health, necessitating ongoing counseling and medication.

Employer’s Defense and Counter Arguments

The employer supported the DRDRB’s decision, arguing that the worker’s evidence did not constitute objective confirmation of the events. They maintained that the described pressures and tensions were normal for the occupation and not excessive or unusual.

Appeals Commission’s Evaluation and Verdict

The Appeals Commission analyzed the presented evidence and concluded there was no objective confirmation of the alleged events. Regarding the audio recording, they noted, “While there is audible tension in the manager’s voice, she is not yelling or screaming. At one point we could hear her swearing in context to herself and not at the worker. The discussion in and of itself does not reasonably rise to bullying or harassment.”

The text message and the SIU report’s confidential witness statement were also deemed insufficient due to the lack of context. Additionally, the Commission noted a personal relationship between the worker and the manager outside of work, complicating the issue.

The panel concluded that a significant portion of the conflict was related to the co-worker’s relationship with the manager, which fell outside the intent of WCB policy for workplace psychological injury claims.

In its decision, the Appeals Commission stated, “In view of the foregoing analysis, we find there is no objective confirmation of the events alleged by the worker.” Consequently, the worker did not meet all required criteria for a chronic onset psychological injury, and the appeal was denied.


Considering an IME or document review to resolve an insurance claim, legal file, or workplace health and safety issue?

Our specialists provide evidence-based opinions, so get in touch with Western Medical today to learn more about our services.