Workers' Compensation Board attributes suicide of Sask. man to his employment

An investigation by the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board has concluded that the suicide of Saskatchewan man Robert Duhaime was the result of his employment as a grader operator at a rural municipality.

Robert Duhaime was a grader operator at the Rural Municipality of Parkdale

Brenda Duhaime with her husband Robert, pictured at their 35th wedding anniversary, a little over a year before Robert took his own life in August 2017. (Brenda Duhaime)

An investigation by the Saskatchewan Workers' Compensation Board has concluded that the suicide of Vawn, Sask. man Robert Duhaime was the result of his employment as a grader operator at a rural municipality.

In a letter to Robert Duhaime's widow, Brenda Duhaime, on Jan. 19, the WCB said his mental health issues have been accepted as being related to his work at the Rural Municipality of Parkdale, Sask.

"There is now sufficient information to attribute Robert's mental health issues and his subsequent passing on Aug. 31, 2017, to his employment," reads the letter.

Another letter from the WCB to the RM, which was also provided to Brenda, said Robert "experienced interpersonal incidents that were excessive and unusual in comparison to pressures and tensions experienced in normal employment."

"Mr. Duhaime had a history of prior mental health issues that pre-existed his work injury," the letter reads.

"Mr Duhaime's most recent mental health issues will be considered first as an aggravation of his pre-existing condition and then an acceleration that led to his taking his life."

RM to pay $13K compensation

Brenda will receive an initial payment of $13,016 from the Workers' Compensation Board. 

The claim was originally denied when Robert filed it earlier in the year for having about two months off work at his doctor's advice.

He took his own life several days after returning to work. Robert died on Aug. 31.

"You just keep hoping that it's going to get better tomorrow, it's going to get better tomorrow, and he said every day it just seemed to get worse," said Brenda.

Widow wants RM to take action

She wants disciplinary action against the RM staff and councillors involved in the "interpersonal incidents" referenced in the WCB finding.

Brenda said her husband's claim related to abusive phonecalls he received when councillors and staff were unhappy with his work grading roads within the RM. She said the grievances with his work were unfair because the condition of the roads was due to the weather.

She said he also told her about incidents where he was belittled in front of his colleagues.

Brenda said she thinks the staff and councillors involved in the incidents that led to the WCB finding should be fired or forced to step down.

Call for change to processes, procedures

She also wants to see changes to the way operational instructions are given to grader operators, and to how mental health claims such as Robert's are handled.

"You know if my husband would have been hurt at work, where he cut his leg or cut his arm, he would have been taken somewhere and had immediate, one-on-one contact with somebody,"

"But when he made his claim all he got is 'we'll send you a form.'"

She said she wants the public to know her husband's story because she wants to stop the same thing from happening again

Brenda is seeking legal advice and has not decided whether to try to take the RM to court.

Reeve says staff, councillors not at fault

Reeve Daniel Hicks said the RM has sent information about the WCB decision to its lawyer and councillors will consider whether to appeal or fight the decision in court at the next council meeting on Feb. 14.

He does not agree with the WCB finding, saying the people accused of bullying were just trying to get Robert to do his job differently.

Asked if Robert was being bullied, he said "that would be a yes and a no."

"Bob's mental health had deteriorated to the point that he couldn't do his job anymore and … the people that were expecting him to do his job were trying to coerce him into doing some more work or getting something done," said Hicks.

"I guess nobody knew that he was mentally ill, nobody told us."

Hicks said he did not know about Robert`s mental health issues until after the WCB claim was filed.

No plans for review, discipline

He said there are no plans to discipline the RM staff referenced in the claim, or to review the RMs policies and procedures related to handling of staff complaints and bullying.

Hicks said verbal disagreements at work are not acceptable, but they happen. He added that the individuals involved apologized to Robert.  

Hicks said the RM does have a bullying policy.

"There is a right way and a wrong way and I'm not going to sit here and tell you everything was done right but it wasn't the cause of his death," he said.

He claims Robert also cursed at town staff, and that the bullying would not have occurred if his work had met their expectations of the role.  

Hicks thinks the WCB should have given the RM the opportunity to participate more in the investigation.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the RM had been ordered to pay $13,016 to Brenda Duhaime. In fact, the RM was ordered to pay cost relief which relates to internal accounting and premiums. The $13,016 will be paid by the Workers' Compensation Board.
    May 09, 2018 11:10 AM CT

About the Author

Alicia Bridges

Alicia Bridges works for CBC Saskatoon. Email her at alicia.bridges@cbc.ca.