This is the first installment of a two-part blog discussing sweeping changes to the Alberta Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) and Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) made as part of the government's initiative to "cut red tape." While the Legislature passed the amendments in December 2020, most of the changes to the WCA come into force on April 1, 2021, while the new OHSA will come into force on proclamation (exact date yet to be announced).
In this installment, we highlight four of the most significant changes to the WCA. Tune in later this week to learn about significant changes to the OHSA.
1. Overhaul of obligations relating to reinstatement and continuation of benefits
- The amendments eliminate the duty of employers to reinstate workers with over 12 months’ service to pre‑injury or comparable positions as well as the rebuttable presumption that an employer who terminates an injured worker has not fulfilled its obligation to return the worker to work. Instead, employers are required to cooperate with the Board and injured workers in efforts to facilitate an "early and safe" return to work.
- Injured workers are obligated to take reasonable steps to mitigate their loss of earnings due to a workplace injury and to cooperate in the development of a vocational or other rehabilitation plan intended to facilitate a return to work. Failure to do so may result in reduced or suspended compensation. The changes place a greater onus on injured workers to participate actively in the processes and programs designed to return them work.
- In addition, employers are no longer required to continue to provide workers extended health care for a year post injury.
2. Changes to compensation payable to injured workers (in force as of January 1, 2021)
- The amendments reinstate a hard cap of $98,700 on maximum gross compensable earnings for claims occurring on or after January 1, 2021 and eliminate mandatory cost of living adjustments to compensation.
3. Reduced limitation period for appeals
- Appeals from Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) decisions respecting compensation or assessments to the Appeals Commission must now be made within one year (down from two).
- Even with this change, Alberta continues to have one of the most generous limitation periods in Canada, with most other jurisdictions requiring that appeals from decisions of a workers' compensation board be made typically within 30 to 90 days.
4. Abolish independent review bodies
- The amendments abolish two independent review offices: the Fair Practices Office (responsible for reviewing processes used by the WCB, the Appeals Commission and the Medical Panels Office) and the Medical Practices Office (responsible for resolving differences of medical opinion or other medical questions related to an injured worker's complaint).
- In place of the Fair Practices Office, the WCB will employ a "Fairness Review Officer" with the power to review and make recommendations regarding administrative fairness and decision-making processes, among other things.
- In place of the Medical Practices Office, the Lieutenant Governor may appoint a Medical Panels Commissioner responsible for the operation of the medical panel process.
- The changes are expected to make statutory reviews less cumbersome, but also potentially less independent.
Overall, the upcoming changes are expected to significantly reduce red tape and provide greater certainty for employers.
For more information on the upcoming changes to Alberta's occupational health and safety legislation, click here to watch Michelle and Jennie's on-demand webinar on the topic.
Michelle’s practice focuses on compliance, primarily in the area of Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S). She advises clients on their regulatory obligations and represents them in related administrative and litigation ...
Jennie Buchanan is an associate in the Commercial Litigation and Dispute Resolution Group in Calgary. Jennie has a general commercial litigation practice, with a focus on commercial arbitration, administrative law, and ...
Lawson Lundell's Labour and Employment Law Blog provides updates on the most recent legal developments impacting the Canadian workplace and offers practical tips for employers. We cover a range of topics, including labour relations, employment law, collective bargaining, human rights, employment standards, employment equity, workers' compensation, business immigration, privacy, occupational health and safety and pensions and employee benefits.
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