The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“HRTO”) recently decided that the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (“WSIB”) failed to accommodate the needs of an injured worker with psychological conditions. In Lawson v. Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the HRTO found that the WSIB failed to consider the impact of its administrative processes and poor communication of decisions on the worker, in light of special needs related to his psychological condition.
David Lawson received full Loss of Earnings benefits from the WSIB after being injured at work in 2002. He had a number of psychological conditions including anxiety and depression marked by suicidal ideation.
Lawson had a strained relationship with the WSIB. He complained of the timing of direct deposits of his benefits, inconsistent Drug Verification Services form letters, and the WSIB’s rejection of numerous medications proposed by his doctor without any explanation. He was also subject to a prohibition against contacting the WSIB by telephone, which made managing his claim very difficult. Eventually, Lawson’s legal representative wrote to the WSIB seeking accommodation of his disability, claiming that his dealings with the WSIB exacerbated his psychological disabilities to “dangerous and harmful levels”.
The WSIB responded to the letter but did not address the request for accommodation.
Lawson brought an application before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, alleging discrimination with respect to services because of disability in violation of the Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, as amended.
The Tribunal noted that the WSIB provides a “service” and explained that the Human Rights Code accordingly requires that it do so in a non-discriminatory manner.
The HRTO held that Lawson experienced contradictory requests for information, inconsistent information about what was allowed, extensive delays, lack of explanation for various decisions that were made, and “seemingly arbitrary and excessive demands for information” that were unnecessary. Finding that Lawson’s experience in seeking entitlement for health care benefits would have been frustrating for most people, let alone a person with heightened levels of stress, the Tribunal concluded that the WSIB “failed to consider the impact of its administrative processes and poor communication of decisions on the applicant in light of the special needs he has as a result of his disabilities.”
In the Tribunal’s view, these processes became discriminatory because of the Board’s failure to appreciate their effect on Lawson in light of his disabilities. Accordingly, the WSIB breached Lawson’s rights under the Human Rights Code.
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