Workers' Compensation Board changes

Albertans will see an improved workers’ compensation system that is fair and provides greater benefits to support injured workers.

Overview

The Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) compensates injured workers for lost income and for health care and other costs associated with work-related injuries.

Changes to the WCB system are long overdue. The Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act), which established the WCB, hasn't had a comprehensive review in more than 15 years. Much has changed since then.

To ensure the system continues to support Albertans and that it remains sustainable and affordable, an independent panel completed a review of the WCB in June 2017.

The panel received more than 1,700 survey responses and 300 written submissions from Albertans. Stakeholders participated in a series of engagement sessions between Sept 2016 and Jan 2017. Feedback from this review was used to inform proposed changes to the Act.

Bill 30: An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans amends the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Most changes take effect Jan 1, 2018.

Make the WCB more accessible to workers

A new Code of Rights and Conduct will enshrine the rights of workers dealing with the WCB and its employees, and will detail how WCB would recognize these rights. This will help ensure the system is friendlier and more compassionate.

Bill 30 will also:

  • revise the preamble to clarify the purpose of the act and the WCB system
  • revise the appointment process to ensure balanced representation among employers, workers and the public
  • allow for regular statutory reviews of the system

Establish a fair practices office

Many Albertans have raised concerns that the WCB is a complicated and highly bureaucratic system that can be challenging to navigate.

In response, Bill 30 will establish an independent fair practices office to:

  • help workers manage their claim from start to finish
  • be a way for people to raise concerns
  • monitor trends in the workers’ compensation system to ensure that it is working efficiently and effectively

The office of appeals advisors, reporting to the fair practices office, would provide extended representation at judicial review for:

  • small- and medium-size employers (up to 100 employees)
  • non-unionized workers
  • unionized workers where access to representation has been exhausted

Better benefits to workers

Changes will provide for a more fair compensation and meaningful rehabilitation for injured workers.

  • Coverage for psychological injuries, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), will be extended to all occupations. Coverage of PTSD for first responders remains the same. To get coverage, workers will need to provide:
    • a qualified diagnosis from a psychologist or physician for a psychological injury
    • evidence of exposure to a traumatic event or events at work.
  • The $98,700 annual cap on maximum insurable earnings – the net earnings of each worker – will be removed. Workers earning more than the cap would now be compensated for 90% of their earnings. This means injured workers will receive benefits more in line with their expected earnings.
  • In the tragic event of a worker’s death, a fatality benefit equal to the maximum Non-Economic Loss Payment will be provided to the spouse or dependant. If there’s no spouse or dependant, it would be paid to the estate.
  • The surviving spouse of a worker killed on the job would no longer be treated differently depending on the family’s income, whether there are children involved, or whether the spouse can be gainfully employed.
    • If there are children, the surviving spouse would receive benefits until the youngest child reaches 18, or up to 25 if they attend post-secondary education.
    • Spouses without children will receive full benefits for 5 years with the ability to receive longer, and can apply to continue receiving benefits until 65 if not considered capable of employment.
  • Cost-of-living adjustments to an injured worker’s benefits would no longer be reduced by 0.5% on Alberta’s Consumer Price Index (CPI). Adjustments would be calculated based on the actual CPI, without any reductions.
  • Provide the ability to adjust the benefits of young workers to mitigate the hardship they might otherwise experience when they sustain a long-term injury on the job. These changes recognize that significant injuries can affect the future career opportunities of a young worker.
  • The long-term compensation rate for severely injured young workers, who were either under 25 at the time of accident or over 25 and enrolled in a vocational or academic program, would be the higher of:
    • 90% of net earnings at time of the accident or
    • 90% of net earnings based on the Alberta average weekly earnings for the previous year
  • Retirement provisions would be updated to better recognize the impact of a workplace injury on an injured worker’s retirement savings.

Obligation to return to work and duty to accommodate

Employers now have an obligation to return their employees who suffered injuries and illnesses in their workplaces to work, unless it imposes an undue hardship. This obligation does not remove a worker’s rights under the Alberta Human Rights Act around accommodation.

Following other jurisdictions in Canada, the changes to the Act will enshrine the obligation of an employer to return employees to work.

  • When a worker is medically able to perform the essential duties of the worker’s pre-accident employment, the employer must:
    • offer to re-employ the worker in the position that was held before the accident or
    • provide alternate employment of a similar nature and at the earnings comparable to the worker’s employment at the time of the accident
  • WCB would be responsible for addressing concerns about return to work.

Deemed earnings

“Deeming” is a process where the WCB reduces a worker’s benefits by identifying a job it believes the worker could be doing and the level of income that the worker could be earning from the job.

In the past, “deeming” resulted in some workers not receiving the level of benefits they should have received based on a fair evaluation of their experience, skills and training.

The changes will introduce provisions so the deeming process used by the WCB would be a last resort after other options – obligation to return to work, job search and retraining – have been exhausted

Medical examinations

Injured workers will have more choice in selecting a physician if they needed a medical examination. This would give injured workers the ability to better manage their own health care.

  • Injured workers would be able to initiate the medical panel process.
  • Health professionals other than physicians would be able to participate as advisors to the medical panels.
  • An informal medical dispute resolution process would be established to ensure timely consideration of disputes.

Occupational disease and injury advisory committee

Bill 30 will establish an occupational disease and injury advisory committee to advise on diseases, injuries and conditions that may be linked to employment in a particular industry, process or activity, including Schedule B of the WCB Regulation.

  • The committee could direct the WCB to deem commonly seen linkages between certain injuries and illnesses and certain types of employment and activity.
  • A review of occupational diseases would be conducted on a regular basis by experts using the best sources of information. They would also promote the regular exchange of information on best practices.

Appeals commission

The appeals commission is the final level of appeal for workers and employers who disagree with a decision of the WCB and the Dispute Resolution and Decision Review Body (DRDRB).

Changes will strengthen the appeal commission review and appeal process to:

  • extend the timeframe to launch a formal review to two years
  • permit the WCB to provide interim relief while matters are under review and appeal when it’s determined that a case is arguable
  • clarify the role of the WCB at an appeals commission panel, and require that the WCB submit notice of its intention and rationale to attend
  • enable the appeals commission to take note of commonly seen linkages between certain injuries and illnesses and certain types of employment and activity and communicate to the WCB and occupational disease and injury advisory committee
  • allow the appeals commission the opportunity to move to a dissenting opinion model if desired
  • publish all decisions of the appeals commission on the appeals commission website
  • require the appeals commission to take a two-stage approach to reconsider applications: a documentary review that has a low threshold to pass and a tribunal that assesses the merits of reconsidering the decision
  • establish the ability for single-adjudicator hearings on certain matters to approve the timeliness of the appeals process