Ontario’s New Law to Help First Responders with PTSD Explained

On April 5, 2016, the Ontario Government passed new legislation to make it easier for First Responders (Police Officers, Paramedics, Firefighters, their dispatchers, and Correctional Services Workers) to get assistance through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. This legislation promises to help a lot of first responders and their families through greater access to mental health treatment for first responders suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

You can read the text of the legislation here. This new legislation, called “Bill 163, Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), 2016”, will replace Bill 2, which also proposed greater assistance for first responders with PTSD and was the bill that many first responders and the #ivegotyourback911 campaign supported. The Ontario Government explains its proposed First Responder PTSD legislation on this page. But for people who are not both a first responder and a lawyer, this page will explain what the new legislation does and does not do.

Is the Legislation Final?

Yes. It has passed all three readings in the Ontario Legislature – in under two months which is very fast for a bill to become law. Before the bill actually becomes law, the government must submit it to the Lieutenant Governor to sign into law. However, this is usually just a formality. The government may delay submitting the bill to the Lieutenant Governor if it needs time to get things in place before the law goes into effect. Perhaps the government will want to give WSIB time to get ready. Also, even after the Lieutenant Governor signs the law, the legislature can pass new bills to amend it. There is pressure to extend the coverage of the bill to include nurses. So, there may be changes to the law in the future. But, until the legislature passes those changes, Bill 163 is the law. 

Who is Covered By This New Legislation?

The new law sets out that the following occupations will be subject to the new rules when applying for WSIB benefits as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder:

    1.  Full-time firefighters.

    2.  Part-time firefighters.

    3.  Volunteer firefighters.

    4.  Fire investigators.

    5.  Police officers.

    6.  Members of a First Nations emergency response team.

    7.  Paramedics.

    8.  Emergency medical attendants.

    9.  Communications officers.

  10.  Workers in a correctional institution.

  11.  Workers in a place of secure custody or place of secure temporary detention.

  12.  Workers whose duties include dispatching the workers described in paragraphs 1 to 5.

How Does the New Law Change the Rules for PTSD and WSIB?

Anyone who has been diagnosed with PTSD by a qualified practitioner (see below) and who works in one of the first responder occupations described above will not have to prove to WSIB that the PTSD is related to a first responder’s work for it to be considered an “occupational disease” or “work injury.” Instead, WSIB will be required to assume that it is and provide benefits unless WSIB can prove that the PTSD is not work-related. This is a big change in the legislation because first responders will no longer be required to prove that their PTSD is the result of their work as first responders.

Who Can Diagnose PTSD?

For the WSIB to recognize a first responder has PTSD, that diagnosis must be made by a psychiatrist or registered psychologist. A psychiatrist is a physician who holds a specialist’s certificate in psychiatry issued by The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. A family doctor or other type of physician cannot make the diagnosis for the new rules to apply. A psychologist is a member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario. WSIB does not have to recognize a diagnosis of PTSD that is made by a social worker, psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, therapist or other type of counsellor. The “new rules” will not apply if one of the diagnoses comes from one of those professionals. 

Does the New Legislation Cover Other Mental Health Issues?

The new legislation only applies to first responders diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. First Responders with depression disorders, anxiety disorders (other than PTSD) or any other mental health issues will still have to prove that those conditions are an “occupational disease” that was caused by their work before receiving WSIB benefits.

Does the Legislation Apply Retroactively To First Responders Already Diagnosed with PTSD?

The answer to this question is “it depends.”

If a first responder with PTSD has already had his or her claim denied by WSIB, then the legislation does not change anything – the claim remains denied.

If a first responder has a claim pending or an appeal pending before the Appeals Tribunal when the bill becomes law, then the matter goes back to the WSIB adjudicator to decide under the new “rules” that assume that the PTSD is work-related.

If the first responder is diagnosed with PTSD up to two years before the bill becomes law, and the first responder has not made a claim or the claim or appeal is still pending, then the “new rules” apply and PTSD is assumed to be work-related. Obviously, the sooner the bill becomes law, the more first responders will be able to benefit from the new provisions.

Is There A Time Limit for Making a Claim for PTSD?

The presumption that PTSD is related to the job of being a first responder only applies for up to 24 months after the person leaves his or her job as a first responder. If a person has not been a first responder for two years, then that person has to prove that the PTSD is work-related and the new “presumption” does not apply. It is obviously important for first responders to make their claim quickly if they leave their jobs as first responders with PTSD.

Does All First Responder PTSD Fall Under the New Rules?

No. A first responder is not entitled to any WSIB benefits if the post-traumatic stress disorder was caused by the first responder’s employer’s decisions or actions relating to the worker’s employment, including a decision to change the work to be performed or the working conditions, to discipline the worker or to terminate the worker’s employment.

Does the New Law Change Anything For Employers?

Employers of First Responders must present their plans to combat PTSD in the workplace if the Ministry of Labour asks for those plans. There is no penalty for employers who do not.

The new legislation promises to make it much easier for first responders with PTSD to get WSIB benefits, which should also make it much easier for them to get help. The #ivegotyourtback911 and everyone else who lobbied the Ontario Government so hard for this legislation deserves a lot of thanks and credit for bringing these changes about.

If you are a first responder (in any of the twelve positions described above) and you need legal advice or assistance, check out this page for lawyers dedicated to helping first responders or contact lawyer and paramedic John Schuman by calling 416-446-5080 or emailing him. There is a 20% discount for first responders for many types of legal issues. You can also contact us, or comment on this page, using the form below. 

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