This is not legal advice! What you are getting here is just general legal information. It is not a substitute for advice from an actual lawyer about your specific situation. If you need legal advice, we urge you to find a lawyer who can help you. See How to Find and Work With a Lawyer.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably considering filing a claim with the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission because you want to be compensated for harms you suffered due to harassment. This guide explains how to file a WSCC claim related to sexual harassment, and the pros and cons of this process, so you can decide whether it’s an avenue you want to pursue.
The Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission is an independent government agency that operates “at arm’s length” from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut governments. It gives benefits and supports to people who’ve been injured at work. These can include replacement of lost wages, health care (including rehabilitation, counselling, and medications), and, in extreme situations, retraining.
Facts about WorkSafeNB
- The WSCC functions like an insurance provider for employers in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Employers pay premiums to the WSCC for the people who work for them. As a result, those people are entitled to benefits if they suffer a workplace injury.
- WSCC coverage is mandatory for most employers. About 97% of Nunavut and Northwest Territory workers are covered by the WSCC, which handles claims in both territories.
- Every year about 1,000 WSCC claims are accepted in the NWT.
- What qualifies as an injury due to harassment is defined very narrowly by the WSCC. Many claims for harassment are denied because the onus is on the worker to prove the harassment.
- In 2021, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal heard no NWT appeals.
- Sources: Workers’ Safety and Compensation Committee 2020 Annual Report, Worker’s Compensation Appeals Tribunal 2021 Annual Report, Workers’ Advisor Office 2021 Annual Report, Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada
If you’ve been harmed by sexual harassment at work, you might think the WSCC will help you.
- Maybe after you were harassed, you took time off work and so lost income.
- Maybe the harassment damaged your mental health, and you ended up needing to spend money on medication for anxiety or depression.
- Maybe the harassment had such an effect on you that you had to leave a male-dominated industry and ended up needing to retrain for a new type of work in a different field.
Those are the kinds of expenses—replacement of lost wages, medication costs, retraining costs—that the WSCC normally does reimburse.
And so it might sound like a good idea to file a claim with the WSCC.
But we need to warn you: The WSCC is very unlikely to help you.
The WSCC doesn’t investigate or adjudicate workplace sexual harassment claims. It’s not going to say, “Yes, you were harassed, and you were punished for reporting it. Here is some money to make up for the pay you lost.” It’s not going to say, “We agree with you that your industry is unfriendly to people like you, and that it makes sense for you to retrain for a different job where you’re less likely to be harassed. We will fund your retraining.”
All the WSCC can do is to give you benefits and supports if you have suffered a physical injury at work (rare in cases of sexual harassment) or mental stress (less rare in sexual harassment cases, but hard to prove). It will only help you if the harm you’ve suffered fits into one of those two categories. And if your employer disputes your claim, which it probably will, the WSCC is very unlikely to approve it.
Historically, the WSCC has mostly handled claims related to physical injuries suffered by workers in male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing, and in uniform occupations like policing and firefighting. If you slip at work and break your ankle, or are struck by a falling object, or are injured in a fire or explosion: that is the kind of situation the WSCC was designed for, and has a lot of experience handling.
The WSCC has less experience with mental health harms. It has only accepted claims for psychiatric and psychological disorders since 2017. And for mental health claims, the WSCC requires you to prove that your workplace was the “predominant” cause of your injury, whereas proof for other claims is only that the workplace was a “substantial” cause. That higher standard, worker advocates say, is another reason, in addition to the established WSCC culture, why so few harassment claims to the WSCC are successful.
Realistically, it’s likely that if you apply for psychiatric or psychological disorder benefits, you’ll be turned down. If you want to pursue the claim after being denied, you’ll need to be prepared to go through an appeal process. Appealing can take a long time, and of the few appeals that are heard, many are denied.
If you want to apply for disability insurance through your workplace provider, the insurer may require you to apply to the WSCC first, and appeal if you are turned down.
Psychiatric or psychological disorder claims
The WSCC awards benefits due to the injury you sustained, which in your case would be damaged mental health. This could be a diagnosis of conditions like acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression. You’ll need a diagnosis by a WSCC-approved psychiatrist or psychologist based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5.
The WSCC may provide compensation to workers who develop a psychiatric or psychological disorder arising out of the following causes:
- an emotional reaction to a work-related physical disability or impairment.
- an emotional reaction to a sudden, single traumatic, work-related incident that is frightening or shocking to the worker, and has a specific time and place.
- an emotional reaction to an accumulation of a number of work-related traumatic events over time.
Pros and cons of going to the WSCC
- Making a WSCC claim isn’t as expensive or complicated as in other forums. You won’t have to pay for your employer’s legal costs if they appeal your claim and your appeal isn’t successful at the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal.
- If the WSCC accepts your claim, the process to get money could be faster than in other forums.
- WSCC benefits can be generous.
- You submit your claim directly to WSCC. No need to wait for your employer to investigate.
- Representing yourself is possible when first making a claim. But if your claim is denied, appealing is more complicated. There may be some legal resources to help if you still want to represent yourself.
- You can’t apply to the WSCC secretly. Your employer will know about your claim, which means they will have information about your private health circumstances.
- Your employer will have the opportunity to dispute your claim. It’s very likely they will dispute it, in which case the WSCC will be more likely to turn it down.
- If the WSCC rejects your claim and you appeal, the appeal process may go on for years.
- Your employer will be updated about any changes to your claim. That means they will continue to know about your personal health situation, even if you don’t work for them anymore.
- The WSCC doesn’t investigate or adjudicate whether you were sexually harassed. If you are looking for someone to tell you that you were sexually harassed, and to punish the harasser or your employer for allowing the harassment, the WSCC won’t give you that.
- To make a claim, you will need a medical professional to say that you’ve suffered an injury. If you don’t have easy access to a medical professional who will do this, making a claim will be harder.
- Making a WSCC claim may mean you can no longer go to other legal forums.
Will the WSCC accept my application?
- If you aren’t sure whether you’re covered by the WSCC, you can call (1-800-661-0792), or seek advice from your union, a lawyer, or the Workers’ Advisor Office. About 97% of workers are covered by the WSCC.
- The WSCC will only accept your claim if the harassment took place “in the course of your employment.” Meaning harassment only counts if it takes place at work, during your work hours (or within a reasonable period before or after work), and while you are performing your work duties. If you live on your employer’s property, harassment that takes place outside work hours may still be covered. If your work requires you to go to different places, you may be covered while travelling and at the different locations.
- The WSCC won’t cover every kind of mental stress that arises at work. If you develop a mental health condition caused by your employer making changes to your shifts or other working conditions, for example, or firing you, or due to interpersonal conflicts that don’t involve harassment, you aren’t eligible to file a claim.
Contact the WSCC (1-800-661-0792) to learn about the rules that apply if you are in one of these categories:
- non-resident worker
- non-status or don’t have a work permit
The WSCC will consider these five things when it reviews your psychiatric or psychological disability claim:
The disorder is not due to the “usual pressures and tensions” that arise at your work.
You have a psychiatric or psychological disorder. This requires a diagnosis by a psychologist or psychiatrist that is recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5. Some examples: acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression.
The disability was caused by “excessive and unusual” work-related traumatic events.
If the claim is for a delayed acute reaction, there must be evidence linking the reaction to a work-related traumatic event.
Work-related harassment claims must be verified by an external investigation. The WSCC does not assume responsibility for this investigation.
You may be able to get help from a lawyer for free. Here are some places that offer free or lower-cost legal services:
- The Workers’ Advisor Office is an independent government agency that provides free and confidential services about workplace injuries and compensation to workers. This office can provide information, advice, and help with representation throughout the WSCC process.
- The Legal Aid Commission has Outreach Legal Aid Clinics that provide legal information and advice. They do not provide legal representation.
- JusticeNet is a not-for-profit service for those whose income is too high to qualify for legal aid but too low to afford regular legal fees. To qualify you must have a family net income under $90,000 and be experiencing financial difficulties. Participating lawyers’ reduced rates vary depending on your family size and income.
- The Law Society of the Northwest Territories Find a Lawyer service may be able to help you locate a pro-bono lawyer who specializes in employment law.
- Your workplace union, association, or Employee Assistance Program may be able to help you find legal services or cover part of your legal fees.
For advice on hiring a lawyer, see How to find and work with a lawyer.
Social and health supports
- 211 Northwest Territories: This community and social services helpline is available 24 hours a day by phone (211 or 1-867-988-6801). It can put you in touch with many services, supports, programs and more.
First, you must decide if filing a claim with the WSCC is the right choice for you. Because there is a very high turndown rate for claims involving sexual harassment, there might be other forums—for example, the Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission or civil court—where you could have a better chance of success.
If you do choose to go to the WSCC, you’ll find more information about the application process on the WSCC’s Report an Injury site. See also the Worker’s Handbook. You can submit the completed Worker’s Report of Injury and mail or drop if off at:
Centre Square Tower, 5th floor
5022 49 Street, Box 8888
Yellowknife, NT X1A 2R3
If you need help filing your Worker’s Report of Injury form, you can call the WSCC at 1-800-661-0792.
You must file your application within one year of the injury. If you are already past the one-year deadline, there are circumstances where the WSCC extends this deadline.
Once you’ve filed a claim, the WSCC will assign you a claim number.
Your employer’s report
Once you report an injury to your employer, they must submit an Employer’s Report of Incident form online within three business days. This report will include information about your job, your earnings, and your mental stress injury.
A health professional’s report
A health care provider must complete a First Medical Report. It provides information on what your diagnosis is and how your ability to work is affected.
You may also need to have a psychologist or psychiatrist submit a Psychiatric/Psychological Initial Report for a mental health injury claim.
After the forms are filed
Your claim is registered by the WSCC. If the WSCC requires more information, it may contact you, your employer, any witnesses, and your psychiatrist or psychologist. Many claims are disallowed at this stage.
An independent health examination
The WSCC may ask you to undergo an independent health examination if it thinks more medical information is necessary to make a decision in your case.
The independent health professional may not agree with your health professional’s diagnosis. If so, the WSCC may use that opinion as a reason to deny you benefits.
If your claim is approved
See the Worker’s Handbook for a detailed outline of what you might be eligible to receive from the WSCC if your claim has been successful. This includes:
- health care benefits like therapy and prescription drugs
- money to replace income you’ve lost due to your injury
- retraining, if necessary
The WSCC requires that anyone who’s providing your health care or who you’re consulting about a workplace injury must report the information they discover. They can do this without your consent when you’re claiming benefits.
Returning to work
The WSCC’s focus is on trying to get you back into the workplace. Your health professional is key to this step. The WSCC will also contact your employer to develop a suitable return-to-work plan. In the case of sexual harassment, this might include arranging that you work at a different location from the harasser.
The thought of returning to work after the sexual harassment you experienced there can be stressful and overwhelming, as you’re going back to the place where you were harassed. Consider connecting with your support network, like friends, trusted loved ones, a therapist or support group. See Build a Support Network for more information.
A WSCC adjudicator or case manager will work with you, your employer, and your health professional, if necessary, to develop a return-to-work plan.
A return-to-work plan sets out the steps you’ll need to take in order to resume your job.
Because your return-to-work will be guided by what your health professional says about your health, it’s a good idea to tell them about any concerns you have. They might be able to advocate on your behalf and make suitable recommendations. The plan will be very detailed. It may also set out any permanent accommodations you might require.
If your claim is turned down
It’s very likely that your WSCC claim for a psychiatric or psychological disorder due to sexual harassment will be denied. A high number of these claims are is dismissed at an early stage in the process, often after only brief consideration. Appealing is lengthy and seldom successful.
You may still decide to appeal, and if you do, you should first speak to the claims entitlement supervisor, adjudicator, case manager or manager of claims services to request a disclosure of your claim file. You then must file a Request for Review form or write a letter within three years of the decision denying your claim. Occasionally, when given more documents or information, the WSCC changes its decision.
For an outline of the appeals process, see the Review page on the WSCC site.
The review committee will send a copy of its decision to all of the parties within 30 days. A successful review will include details on what you are eligible for, how much you should receive, and how long you should collect benefits.
If you weren’t successful, you can file a final appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal.
The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal
The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal is the final level of appeal if you disagree with a WSCC decision. It’s independent from the WSCC but applies WSCC policies in its decisions. You must have already gone through the WSCC appeal process to reach the appeals tribunal. You have three yearsfrom the date of the review committee decision to file an appeal to the tribunal.
The appeals tribunal process usually includes a hearing in-person, by videoconference or by teleconference, but sometimes it is handled through written submissions only.
The Notice of Appeal form is available on the tribunal website. The form, with a copy of the Review Commission decision you’re appealing, should be faxed to1-867-766-4226 or mailed, couriered, or delivered in person to the appeals tribunal at:
NWT and Nunavut Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal
10th Floor, Precambrian Building
4920 52nd Street
Yellowknife, NT X1A 3T1
In most of its cases, the appeals tribunal releases its decisions within three months of receiving all the evidence.
Appeals tribunal decisions are final—there’s no appeal. You can apply to the Governance Council to rehear the appeal, but these requests are rarely granted. Or you may pursue a judicial review of the decision, which is a limited and technical review through the civil court system. If you are considering this, you should discuss your case with a lawyer to review your options. See How to find and hire a lawyer.