Main adjustments to Alberta’s Staff’ Compensation Board protection take impact immediately

Major changes to the Workers’ Compensation Board in Alberta go into effect today, including the removal of an employer’s legal obligation to reinstate and reinstate an injured worker.

With Bill 47, the Law to Ensure Safety and Reduce Bureaucracy, the UCP government is withdrawing changes to the rules on compensation and occupational health and safety introduced by the previous NDP government.

Some of the WCB changes took effect January 1, but many of the most important and controversial changes go into effect today.

In addition to removing the obligation to reinstate an injured worker after the WCB process, the changes include:

  • Ending an employer’s obligation to continue to pay extended health care benefits for injured workers at WCB. This means that an injured worker would have to take out private insurance to maintain health insurance coverage that is not covered by the WCB.
  • Closing the Fair Practices Office. This office effectively served as the ombudsman’s office for the WCB, helping both employees and employers find their way around the system.
  • Redistribute the surplus from WCB investment to employers in the form of a discount rather than staying within WCB to improve services.
  • Eliminating the benefit of the doubt provisions favoring workers when there is evidence roughly the same as on a matter before a WCB medical panel.

When Bill 47 was introduced, Secretary of Labor and Immigration Jason Copping said he would rebalance the WCB system and help manage costs by removing red tape and duplication of work.

Copping spokesman Joseph Dow said in a statement emailed Thursday that the services offered by the Fair Practices Offices will be transferred to other existing organizations.

He said many employers had told the province that the legal obligation to reinstate a worker was too inflexible and did not address the needs of small or seasonal employers.

“Data also shows employers across the province are volunteering to help return more than 90 percent of workers to work,” he said.

Dow added that employers still have an obligation to accept disabled workers in accordance with human rights law and to cooperate on the return of an injured worker to work.

Changes the address to “unreasonable hardship”

Anthony Butkovic is a WCB consultant who works for employers. He said the obligation to reinstate injured workers has placed “undue hardship” on small and medium-sized businesses.

“These legislative changes are very positive [for employers] because they focus on accountability and employee-employer collaboration.

Butkovic said removing an employer’s obligation to hire an injured worker ensures the worker cooperates and takes responsibility for attending medical appointments and participating in a return to work plan.

Critics say the changes are bias against workers, fail to ensure workers are treated fairly by the WCB system, and undermine workers’ trust in the system.

“Mr. Copping basically said that the government was doing this because it wanted to balance things out,” said Edmonton attorney John Carpenter, who has represented the workers’ side for more than 30 years.

“It’s a balance for the bosses,” he said. “It’s not a balance for the everyday Albertan, the everyday worker in this province.”

Carpenter particularly criticized the closure of the Fair Practices Office. He said the office provides neutral support to workers and employers on market terms. It is also responsible for overseeing the functioning of the judicial process and making ongoing recommendations to improve the process, he said.

Now workers must deal with a fair practice officer who works for the WCB.

“In my respectful view [the process] will have absolutely no credibility for the workers, “Carpenter said.

The government has announced that it will save $ 1.8 million by closing the office. But Carpenter said it will cost more in the long run because the office actually saved time for workers, employers, and the WCB.

Undermine WCB’s purpose, says AFL

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labor, said the changes made to Bill 47 “would completely undermine the entire purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Board.

“These changes are about reducing access to benefits and lowering the premiums paid by employers,” he said.

The changes will make it harder for injured workers to navigate the system and more difficult for them to approve their claims for benefits and assistance, “he said.

McGowan said removing the obligation on employers to keep workers on a company’s extended health program will mean workers can be cut off when they need family coverage for things like medication and dental care.

“They put additional financial burdens on workers and their families at the exact point in time when their income falls because they can no longer work,” he said.

Bonnie Gostola is vice president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the largest union in the province with more than 95,000 members.

She said Copping’s focus on the balance between workers and employers shows a lack of understanding of the purpose of a government-funded disability insurance system. Employees give up their right of action under this system and in return expect protection for their income and health.

“Allowing the employer to fire an employee for compensation after two years doesn’t sound to me like they’re protecting the employee,” she said.

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