Modifications to Alberta’s Employees’ Compensation Act Take Impact

A number of changes to the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Act[1] (the “WCA”) Came into force on April 1, 2021. These changes to the WCA as well as changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Act[2] were announced on November 5, 2020, when the Alberta government enacted Law 47, the Security and Reduction of Red tape Act, 2020. The changes introduced in Law 47 have been viewed by some as employer-friendly and lift many of the changes introduced by the law on previous NDP government in 2018.

After receiving royal approval on December 9, 2020, some changes to the WCA took effect on January 1, 2021. One of the changes that came into force on January 1, 2021 was, in particular, the reinstatement of the upper limit for the compensatory income of injured employees. A non-exhaustive list of other key changes that came into effect April 1, 2021 is set out below.

Important changes with effect from April 1, 2021

Duty to cooperate

Before April 1, 2021, employers had to reinstate injured employees who had worked for the employer for at least a year before the accident. However, from April 1, 2021, employers will no longer have to use injured workers. Instead, both employers and employees have a duty to cooperate on all aspects of the safe return of a worker to work. In particular, the changes require that injured employees take all reasonable steps to mitigate the employee’s loss of earnings and communicate with the Workers’ Compensation Board (the “WCB”) When developing a professional or other rehabilitation plan aimed at getting the worker back into employment. If an employee fails to do so, the WCB may reduce or suspend the compensation payable to the employee.

Contributions to the Group Health Benefits Plan

As of April 1, 2021, employers will no longer be required to contribute to group insurance plans for injured workers who are not working, even though they can do so voluntarily. Injured workers may continue to receive medical and rehabilitation benefits from the WCB related to their injuries.

WCB appeal period

The deadline for appeal against a WCB decision to the Appeals Committee will be shortened from two years to one year.

Fairness ratings

From April 1, 2021, Fairness Review Services will be provided by the Fairness Review Officer (the “FRO”) Via the Fair Process Review Center (the“FPRC”). The FRO and the FPRC replaced the Fair Practices Office. The FPRC provides free, neutral, impartial and independent legal advice services to workers and employers who feel they have been treated unfairly. The FRO is an employee of the WCB Board of Directors (the “blackboard”), Who makes recommendations to the Board on matters under the WCA relating to complaints about administrative fairness.

Medical panels

The Medical Panels Office (the “MPO”) Closed with effect from April 1, 2021. Medical panels have yet to be used to resolve disagreements regarding the allegation of an injured worker. However, now a Medical Panels Commissioner is responsible for running the Medical Panel process.

Independent medical examinations

With the closure of the MPO, the administration of independent medical examinations (“SURNAME”) Is now the responsibility of the WCB. Injured workers are still allowed to choose their IME doctor if the WCB requests an examination. However, the list of independent medical examiners is now being created and maintained by the WCB.

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