Are bosses liable for hurt feelings at work?

Are bosses liable for hurt feelings at work?

Are bosses liable for hurt feelings at work? It’s never been more important to create a positive work environment, with employers potentially now finding themselves liable for covering the mounting cost of employees’ work-related stress.

From next year, Ontario workers will be entitled to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) compensation for chronic or mental stress arising from their employment.

WSIB has historically denied work-related anxiety, depression and stress claims – and is currently facing a lawsuit over its rejection of a claim from a former Ottawa public servant who says ongoing workplace sexual harassment caused her mental stress.

Lawyer Asha Rampersad, of Bernardi Human Resource Law, says it’s been “very, very difficult to get damages” for such disabilities in the past, but that’s changing – and there’s an increasing recognition that employers may be liable to cover the insurance costs of such mental stress, arising from workplace bullying and harassment.

“They can expect that they’re going to get more claims for mental health issues, because stress is rampant in the workplace, harassment issues and so forth,” she told HRD.

“They can expect to face higher premiums because they might be getting more claims, because of the changes that are underway under the WSIB to recognize chronic mental health conditions that arise out of or in the course of that employment.”

It’s the first time the Ontario government has moved to regulate “the interpersonal relationships of employees in the workplace,” Rampersad says.

“That’s because there’s a lot of information and discussion taking place that bullying and a toxic working environment and a stressful working environment and harassment in the workplace cause huge absenteeism rates, a cost in terms of dollars.”

Employers can no longer afford to think of a positive work environment as a “fluffy concept” or a nice-to-have.

“It really is becoming more and more expected. If you don’t treat your employees respectfully, and they face a disability of some sort as a result of that conduct”, you could be liable, she warns.

Rampersad recommends employers work to increase employee engagement, train managers on how to interact with staff and deliver constructive criticism and feedback, and themselves become more knowledgeable on best practices in performance management.

“That’s going to assist in creating more positive workplaces.”

Related stories:
Do your staff need mental health training?
What can HR ask about mental health?

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