Nova Scotia man to challenge compensation rules for job-related stress in court

HALIFAX – A Nova Scotia man is taking the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) to the province’s Court of Appeal on Friday. John Dale claims a section of the board’s act, which doesn’t recognize gradual onset stress, violates his constitutional rights.

Dale, a former provincial correctional officer with more than 30 years of experience, argues his compensation claim was denied because it didn’t fit the definition of “accident.”

Currently, Section 2 (a) of the Workers’ Compensation Act states that an accident does not include stress other than that which is an “acute reaction to a traumatic event.”

“Generally, that means when something awful happens to someone in the course of their employment, or they witness something awful happen, that may meet the definition of accident under the Workers’ Compensation Act,” said Steve MacDonald, manager of marketing and communications for the WCB.

Jessie Parkinson, director of The Office of the Worker Counsellor, said the definition means gradual onset stress is not recognized.

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“It excludes and prohibits workers in Nova Scotia who become ill as a result of a gradual buildup of stress in the workplace, as a result of the work that they do or the conditions under which they work, from claiming workers’ compensation,” she said.

Parkinson said a similar case was heard by Ontario’s Court of Appeal earlier this year. The appellant in that case was successful with her stress claim, with the court finding the stress exclusion unconstitutional. Parkinson said she hopes that decision will set a precedent for Nova Scotia.

“This will be a landmark decision, in my opinion,” she said.

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The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) represents more than 400 correctional officers across the province. Paul Cormier, an Occupational Health and Safety officer with NSGEU, said it’s a tough job with chronic stressers.

“If we’re going to subject people to that type of environment, which again is an inherent part of the job unfortunately with people you deal with, then I think we want to make sure that we have proper coverage at the end of the day,” he said.

Cormier said he also believes the parameters for compensation need to be changed.

“We’d like to see that definition more in line with the Government Employees Compensation Act, which doesn’t have that specific provision, so it allows each case to be objectively looked at,” he said.

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Although the appeal will be heard on Friday, a decision in the case is not expected for at least two to six months.

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