Fatal heart attack may have resulted from years of workplace bullying: WCB ruling
Widow of allegedly abused worker awarded benefits
(Canadian OH&S News) — The Workers Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island (WCB) recently awarded benefits to a Hazelbrook, P.E.I. woman, after ruling that her husband’s death by cardiac arrest had been linked to workplace bullying.
Eric Donovan, 47, was a longtime employee of Queens County Residential Services (QCRS) who passed away on Nov. 11, 2013. The WCB awarded benefits to Donovan’s widow, Lisa Donovan, following a three-year legal proceeding. The ruling reportedly occurred last December, but was not publicized by the media until late March.
The award to Lisa Donovan was “based on a finding of fact that there was bullying, that there was resultant stress, that that stress was of a degree in severity that induced a heart attack, and that heart attack was fatal,” said her lawyer, James W. Macnutt, a partner with Charlottetown law firm Macnutt & Dumont.
Macnutt did not specify the type of bullying that Eric Donovan had allegedly undergone from his employer, but characterized it as “intense” and said that it had been going on for years.
“The evidence submitted to the WCB was accepted to establish all of the elements that ultimately led to compensation being payable,” added Macnutt, noting that some of Donovan’s co-workers had given affidavits swearing that they had experienced bullying at the same workplace “and some of them left the employment because of it.”
QCRS, which is a nonprofit organization that delivers programs and services to adults with intellectual disabilities in Charlottetown, did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment. The WCB declined to discuss specific details of the case.
While preparing for the case, Macnutt explained, he and his colleagues attempted to find a legal precedent involving a link between workplace bullying and a fatality. “We were not successful,” he said. “I’ve been swamped with calls and e-mails from other WCBs across the country in relation to this, and I can only say that they are indicating to me that they’re unaware of a similar ruling.”
But the Donovan case sends an important message to employers about the potential consequences of workplace bullying and the necessity of enforcing anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies, Macnutt stressed.
“Employers are damn well going to have to start complying with the rules and policies that they have implemented,” he said.
“And the stories that I’m getting from so many people on the street and from other contacts,” Macnutt continued, “it’s astonishing how many people are saying that they have been in workplaces where there has been consistent, health-threatening and health-injurious bullying and where nothing has been done by supervisors.”
The benefits that the WCB awarded to Lisa Donovan included funeral costs, death benefits and monthly survivor benefits based on a percentage of Eric Donovan’s pensionable salary, according to local media reports.
A statement from the P.E.I. government, which reportedly provides funding for QCRS’ staffing and operational costs, said that the organization is “responsible for ensuring the safety of their clients and staff” and for bringing up staff-related issues through its human-resources department and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“The incidence of bullying, which seems to be fairly frequent, has to be controlled,” said Macnutt. “Otherwise, there will be continuing consequences.”