B.C.’s New Democratic Party government yesterday introduced the Workers Compensation Amendment Act (No. 2), 2022. The amendments stem from a series of reports commissioned by the government including a controversial report by Janet Patterson. Business and trade associations, including RCC, initially participated in consultations with Ms. Patterson but withdrew when it became clear that their input would not be considered.
The changes include:
- Establishing a Fair Practices Commissioner that will report directly to the WorkSafeBC board of directors and be independent of other parts of WorkSafeBC. The commissioner will be appointed directly by WorkSafeBC’s board to investigate complaints by workers and employers of alleged unfairness in dealings with WorkSafeBC, including systemic issues. The commissioner will be able to make recommendations for resolving these complaints and will issue an annual report to the board of directors.
- Establish a clear legal employer duty to re-employ injured workers and to accommodate returning workers short of undue hardship. The amendment also requires employers and workers to co-operate with each other and with WorkSafeBC to support the return of the worker to their pre-injury employment or, where this is not possible, to other suitable work.
- Expand access to independent health professionals by allowing them to be requested as part of an appeal to the external Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT), after the avenues to address medical disputes at WorkSafeBC and its internal review division have been pursued. Currently, workers and employers do not have the explicit right to request an independent health professional at WCAT if there is a medical dispute on a worker’s appeal.
- Require interest to be paid on compensation benefits that are determined by a WorkSafeBC review officer or WCAT to be owing to a person for 180 or more days. Currently, interest on delayed compensation must be paid only in very narrow circumstances. Interest payable must be calculated in accordance with policies set by WorkSafeBC.
- A claims suppression amendment will add explicit provisions against employers dissuading workers from filing a claim for compensation, with enforcement through penalties under the occupational health and safety provisions of the Workers Compensation Act.
- Index workers’ compensation benefits to the full rate of annual percentage changes in the Canadian Consumer Price Index (CPI). WorkSafeBC will have the discretion to approve annual indexation above 4%, if the percentage change in the CPI exceeds that amount. This was instituted by the New Democratic Party government in the 1990s and repealed by a B.C. Liberal government in 2002.
- Increasing the maximum compensation for non-traumatic hearing loss which is currently capped at 15% of a total disability when there is no loss of earnings, and there is no cap for traumatic hearing loss. The proposed improvement would amend the Act to enable WorkSafeBC to set a higher cap consistent with the evolving science.
RCC and many other business associations are concerned that neither government nor WorkSafeBC is able to provide information on the cost to employers of these changes. Paying interest on compensation benefits (change number 4) and indexation of compensation benefits (number 6) will be very costly to the system. At a time when businesses, particularly small business, are struggling both to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and are burdened by inflation, our view is that this is irresponsible.
In addition, this government continues to fuel inflation through significant increases to labour costs for B.C. businesses. RCC’s view is that this is particularly badly-timed when many British Columbians are concerned about the affordability of basic goods and services. RCC encourages the government to withdraw or delay the legislation until the costs and impacts to B.C. employers are properly estimated.
For more information contact Greg Wilson, Director, Government Relations (B.C.) at email@example.com or Avery Bruenjes, Senior Manager, Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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