Saskatoon

Tribunal upholds WCB's finding that man's job at Sask. RM led to his suicide

The Rural Municipality of Parkdale has lost its final appeal against a Workers Compensation Board decision attributing the suicide of one of its workers to his job.

WCB denies RM claim that worker had pre-existing condition

Brenda Duhaime holds one of the memory pillows made out of T-shirts that belonged to her husband Bob. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

The Rural Municipality of Parkdale has lost its final appeal against a Workers' Compensation Board decision attributing the suicide of ones of its workers to his job.

Robert Duhaime of Vawn, Sask., died by suicide on Aug. 31, 2017.

In February, 2018, the WCB concluded Duhaime's death stemmed from his employment as a grader operator at the RM of Parkdale. His widow, Brenda, said her husband was being bullied and harassed on the job.

After Duhaime's death the WCB accepted a claim, saying there was sufficient information to attribute his mental health issues and his subsequent death to his employment.

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)

The RM denied it was at fault in the death and appealed the WCB decision. When the initial appeal was rejected, the RM took it to the next level of appeal: the WCB tribunal.

In its appeal, the RM said Duhaime had a pre-existing mental health condition and that some statements made by witnesses in the initial investigation were fabricated. It also said the WCB had "ignored" some witness statements from some of the people accused of bullying.

CBC has obtained the tribunal report that rejects the RM's appeal and concludes again that Duhaime's death was the result of his employment.  

"There was evidence of prior mental health issues, but the specific causative factor for the suicide was the workplace issues," reads the report.

I feel anger that it was so little so late.- Brenda Duhaime, Robert Duhaime's widow

The case is also under investigation by Occupational Health and Safety, which said the matter is currently being reviewed by the Ministry of Justice.  

The RM of Parkdale did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Daniel Hicks, reeve of the RM, previously told CBC there is no culture of bullying there.

He said the RM didn't know about Duhaime's mental health issues and just wanted him to do his job.

"Probably the only thing we did wrong was, instead of firing the man, we kept trying to give him second chances," said Hicks in 2018.

During the tribunal's investigation, psychiatric reports from Duhaime's doctor were reviewed by a WCB psychological consultant. Brenda Duhaime and individuals from the RM were also interviewed.

The report said statements from co-workers and RM members, "identify patterns of abusive behaviour" by some workers and councillors at the RM. It said Duhaime received repeated telephone calls at all hours, multiple text messages complaining about his work and abusive telephone conversations filled with foul language.

The report states Duhaime was also embarrassed in front of other employees and that one individual demanded a doctor's letter saying he was fit for work when it was not required.

Duhaime's illness in 'full remission' 

The report said Duhaime had previously suffered from depression and anxiety, but that his illness had been in "full remission" since 2006.

"The consultant noted that Mr. Duhaime was functioning normally without symptoms with continued good care by the psychiatrist for 11-12 years until the work stress-related issues came into play," the report said.

Although the RM disputes many of the statements provided by workers, councillors and a former councillor to the WCB, the board said some individuals had described behaviour it said had caused or contributed to Duhaime's stress.

The tribunal said it found evidence that there was bullying behaviour and harassment by the employer even before Duhaime returned to work and that it continued when he returned.

April 1, 2017, a snowy Easter Saturday. That's the day Brenda Duhaime thinks it all started going wrong for her husband. Robert Duhaime worked as a grader operator, clearing the roads in rural Saskatchewan. But that day, his grader got stuck in a ditch. And shortly after, Brenda says he started receiving angry phone calls from work. Four months later, Robert took his own life. And now his widow is trying to get answers. 27:30

"Only two days after returning from his stress leave, Mr. Duhaime's mental health issues became so grave because of the work stress that he acted to take his own life on August 30, 2017, and he died when life support was stopped on August 31, 2017."

The tribunal concluded Duhaime suffered a psychological injury due to a series of work-related, interpersonal incidents outside the normal expectations of doing his job, cumulatively considered a "traumatic event."

The tribunal denied the RM's appeal asking for the claim acceptance to be reversed, and refused to provide cost relief. The tribunal is the final level of appeal available within the WCB system.

'Huge relief'

Brenda Duhaime said the decision is a "huge relief" but the process has been frustrating.

"They found, you know, the truth. Something I knew all along. I didn't think that my husband would be lying to me about what was going on at work," said Duhaime.

"I feel anger that it was so little so late, because regardless of what the result is it doesn't change anything for me, my husband's still dead."

She believes the people named as being involved by the report should lose their jobs or council positions.

The Workers' Compensation Board said it does not comment on its tribunal decisions.

The RM of Parkdale office in Glaslyn is about 220 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

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