April 25, 2013

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a potentially debilitating mental disorder affecting up to 3% of the population at any given time. In this session, experienced counsel will discuss the legal duty to prevent workplace events that might cause PTSD, the duty to accommodate employees with PTSD and circumstances in which PTSD will be compensable under workers’ compensation legislation. An expert on the disorder will also provide valuable background information on PTSD, its causes and symptoms, as well as practical suggestions for dealing with employees with PTSD.

    • Recognition: What is “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD)? What symptoms are typically experienced by people with PTSD? How common is it? What is the relationship between stress and PTSD? What is the relationship between anxiety and PTSD? How is a diagnosis of PTSD made? Do diagnostic criteria require a past experience of extreme physical danger? Can bullying cause a worker to develop PTSD? What types of treatment are typically recommended? What other mental disorders are typically concurrent with PTSD and how might these concurrent disorders complicate diagnosis or treatment? What is the prognosis for someone with PTSD? Is he or she likely to be able to function at work without accommodations after a certain period of treatment? What types of behaviour could indicate that an employee may have PTSD? Is an employer under a legal duty to inquire about an employee’s mental health if he or she is exhibiting such behaviours?
    • Prevention: What steps are employers legally required to take to ensure that employees do not develop PTSD as a result of events in the workplace? Are an employer’s legal duties regarding prevention fulfilled by an employer developing policies and programs to prevent and respond to violence in the workplace? In Ontario will meeting the requirements of the Bill 168 amendments to the OHSA meet the employer’s duty? In B.C. will employers meet the duty to prevent PTSD by complying with WorkSafeBC policies promulgated in response to Bill 14 amendments to the Workers’ Compensation Act? What standards might be applicable in other provinces and in the federal sector? What can be done to prevent PTSD in “first responders,” e.g. police, firefighters, paramedics, who routinely encounter traumatic situations during the course of their work?
    • Accommodation: What medical information is the employer legally entitled to request in order to assess accommodation options (and what must the employee provide)? Because PTSD is a mental disorder, should information from a psychiatrist or a psychologist be required? Should employers give greater weight to a diagnosis from a psychiatrist than a diagnosis from a psychologist? What types of accommodations are usually appropriate for employees with PTSD? How might PTSD affect an employee’s ability to participate in the accommodation process? How should employers respond to employees who engage in misconduct as a result of PTSD? From a medical/psychological perspective what types of misconduct are likely to be caused by PTSD?
    • Compensation: What evidence will be required to prove entitlement to benefits for PTSD under workers’ compensation legislation? Are workers’ compensation benefits available to an employee who develops PTSD as a result of a third party’s actions in the workplace (e.g. cashier’s reaction to a robbery)? Is the workers’ compensation regime the only venue in which such an employee can seek compensation?