Traumatic personal call? Employer disputes worker’s psychological injury claim

Commission decides if workplace was the ‘primary’ source of stress

Traumatic personal call? Employer disputes worker’s psychological injury claim

The Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation recently dealt with the confirmation decision that a worker was entitled to compensation and benefits for the psychological injuries that she suffered at work.

The employer, however, argued that a personal call triggered her stress and was not directly caused by her workplace environment.

The worker is an emergency dispatcher diagnosed with PTSD. She explained how everything started with a personal call that received on July 6, 2006.  She related how she was able to leave her work behind before the call but became increasingly unable to cope with the 911 calls afterward. 

She detailed several 911 calls she received and explained how PTSD has impacted her life. She added that the nature of her work environment contributed to her condition. She described issues with workload, employee recognition and mental health support.

Worker’s ‘primary trigger’

The employer argued that the primary trigger for the employee's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was identified as a personal phone call received during work.

Medical professionals unanimously agreed that this incident, regardless of the employee's location, was the pivotal event causing her PTSD.

According to records, the employer said that the worker voluntarily stepped out of her work responsibilities to take this personal call, and it was this call that led to her psychiatric diagnosis.

On the other hand, the employee’s representative said that as an emergency dispatcher diagnosed with PTSD, she qualified for presumptive coverage under the Worker's Compensation Act.

The employee said that although a personal phone call heightened her vulnerability, subsequent traumatic experiences at work were the root cause of her PTSD.

The employee described a “heinous” work environment with “heavy workloads, lack of recognition and inadequate mental health supports.”

HRD previously reported about a psychiatrist who argued that his employer failed to discharge its duty to provide a safe workplace in the hospital.

The incident that injured the psychiatrist involved a patient who had not been sleeping, had mood swings, and was erratic and confrontational in the hospital emergency room. It was later found out that was an MMA fighter and highly skilled in jiu-jitsu.

Valid claim for psychological injury

The Commission found that the employee received a confirmed diagnosis of a psychological injury as defined in the DSM-V from various medical professionals.

It said that the employer had the burden to negate its responsibility for the injuries that the worker suffered. Since she was an emergency call dispatcher, the nature of her role carried a presumption that it contributed to her mental health condition.

In this regard, the Commission found that “the employer failed to provide evidence contradicting the conclusion that work exposure was a necessary factor.” Thus, the Commission affirmed that the employee has a valid claim for psychological injury.

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