Updates to Alberta's Workers Compensation Legislation
As part of an extended roll-out of changes to workers compensation legislation in 2018, the government of Alberta introduced the last and most noteworthy changes to Bill 30 (An Act to Protect the Health and Well-Being of Working Albertans) on September 1, 2018. Here is an explanation of some of the key changes.
The Introduction of Interim Relief
This new program is designed to provide assistance to low-income claimants during the review or appeal process. Interim relief is only available in exceptional circumstances where financial hardship is demonstrated. If granted, the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) will pay a worker’s interim relief wage-loss benefits based on the lesser of their gross annual earnings or minimum wage for the year ($28,000 for 2018). Regardless of the result of an applicant’s WCB appeal, the worker does not have to pay this benefit back. If the claim is successful, the value of the interim assistance will be deducted from the amount owing to the worker.
Increased Protection for Employment Health Benefits
Employers are now required to continue to pay health benefits contributions for up to one year following the date of accident at the same level as preaccident coverage, including coverage for all dependents. This extends to all benefits coverage (dental, vision, paramedical, etc.) prior to the accident, but is not required to include any benefits deemed to be nonessential, such as wellness benefits, life/travel insurance, etc. This protection does not apply to subcontractors or practicum students.
Under this new legislation, the only ways for employees to be exempt from this coverage is if they sign off with WCB saying that they forfeit this coverage or if they voluntarily end their employment.
Most notably, if a worker is terminated in the year following the accident, the employer is still obligated to provide health benefits for the full year following the date of the accident. And, further, if a worker makes contributions to their benefits plan, an employer is obligated to make an option available whereby the worker can continue paying their portion for the full year.
Obligation to Reinstate
If an injured worker has been an employee for 12+ months, the employer must bring them back after a workplace injury unless the employer can prove undue hardship. The employer’s responsibility is to bring the employee back to their date-of-accident job (or alternate employment with the same earnings) when they are fit for full duties. Of particular importance to the construction sector, this obligation continues during temporary stops in employment—sabbaticals, sick leaves, parental leaves, approved leaves of absence, or layoffs of less than three months.
Essentially, the bar has been raised for the duty to accommodate. Employers must find suitable modified work that must be a “meaningful and productive part of the employer’s operations” and cannot be work that provides financial hardship for the worker (such as child care costs due to a change in schedule, etc.). Notably, there is no time limit for an employer’s obligation to provide suitable work, and their obligation only ends if the worker declines an offer that is deemed suitable or resigns.
Additionally, if an employee returns to work after an accident claim and is terminated within six months or while still on benefits, WCB will presume that the employer did not meet their obligation to reinstate. The obligation to prove the “reasonableness” of any termination falls to the employer and the presumptive protection falls to the employee.
If you have any questions, concerns, or would like to know more about your Workers Compensation coverage as a working Albertan, you can reach out to the Alberta Workers Compensation Board (wcb.ab.ca) directly or talk with your CLAC representative.