B.C. government proposes changes to workers’ compensation

B.C. government proposes changes to workers' compensation
Province of BC/File photo
Harry Bains, Minister of Labour, discusses recently released WorkSafeBC sector guidelines relating to BC's Restart Plan on May 21, 2020

The B.C. government has put forward proposed changes to the Workers Compensation Act, including raising the maximum salary amount on which workers’ compensation benefits are based.

“For too many years, we have heard from injured workers in B.C. that the system lacks fairness and doesn’t work for them or support them through their injuries,” B.C. Minister of Labour Harry Bains said Tuesday.

“Today’s changes are an important step in modernizing the Workers Compensation Act, ensuring workers and their families get the support they need, while also increasing everyone’s confidence in the system.”

The changes include:

  • Increasing the amount injured workers will receive through their benefits
  • Increasing the maximum insurable earnings to $100,000 from $87,100. The government said the goal is that at least 90 per cent of B.C.’s workers will have 100 per cent of their earnings covered if they are unable to work due to a workplace injury.
  • Allowing WorkSafeBC to determine a worker’s retirement date, therefore the date loss-of-earnings benefits would end, when that worker is nearing age 65, rather than at the time of injury. According to the government, this allows WorkSafeBC to better determine whether someone may work past the age of 65 and continue receiving benefits.
  • Eliminating the existing test for determining when the loss of earnings or the loss of function method should be used in calculating benefits and ensuring workers will always receive the disability payment that is the higher of the two.
  • Expediting health care for a worker before a claim is accepted, when treatment will likely prevent a significant deterioration in health, such as counselling for a mental health issue or preventative treatment for a possible HIV infection.
  • Removing a barrier to mental health claims that requires workers to submit a claim within one year from the date of exposure to a workplace traumatic event or stressor. The government said the time limit is not realistic for most workers, given the delay or gradual onset of some mental disorders, so the changes allow WorkSafeBC to develop a policy that recognizes the unique nature of these claims and adjust the one-year limit.
  • Giving WorkSafeBC the powers of search and seizure for workplace investigations (through judge-granted warrants) through the Workers Compensation Act, rather than the Offence Act. This could include: the ability to collect samples, search hard drives, seize or compel documents and obtain tele-warrants. This will provide WorkSafeBC with appropriate power to investigate workplace safety infractions when prosecution is being considered.
  • Removing the requirement that WorkSafeBC’s president must approve an offence referral to Crown counsel.
  • Allowing courts to hear victim impact statements as part of a prosecution relating to occupational health and safety violations.
  • Giving courts the power to direct a convicted employer to publish, at their expense, facts about their offences, such as how they contravened the act and the penalties they face. For example, an employer may be ordered to publish these facts in a newspaper or company-wide newsletter.
  • Allowing the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal to hear cases relating to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Human Rights Code. For example, a worker may bring concerns about being discriminated against by an employer with respect to a workplace injury before the tribunal.
  • Establishing liability on corporate directors for unpaid premiums or other amounts owed to WorkSafeBC.
  • Allowing WorkSafeBC to correct or acknowledge obvious errors of a decision past the 75-day time limit for reconsideration. For example, previously if WorkSafeBC made a mistake in determining worker benefits, that decision could not be corrected and the worker compensated unless the mistake was discovered within 75 days of a decision.

The government said the legislation, if passed,  will fast-track the effective date of presumptions if established by WorkSafeBC’s board of directors for occupational diseases caused by viral pathogens.

The presumption would simplify the process for workers who make a workers’ compensation claim if they contract viruses on the job. According to the government, this would ensure that people who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 at work are able to access benefits more quickly.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, WorkSafeBC is allowing businesses to defer paying their premiums for six months without penalty or interest. As well, WorkSafeBC is waiving premiums on wages paid to workers of employers receiving the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy for the duration of the program.

The government says of the more than 44,000 injured workers currently receiving permanent disability benefits because of a work-related injury, about 35 per cent  are in the greater Vancouver area and the rest are spread throughout all regions of B.C.

Each year, there are over 100,000 new claims due to workplace injury or fatality.

Last year in B.C., there were 140 workplace fatalities. Of these, 84 were due to occupational disease, 40 were due to traumatic injury and 16 were the result of a motor vehicle incident. In the last five years, WorkSafeBC has conducted an average of 131 investigations per year. In 2019, WorkSafeBC conducted 141 investigations.

To read the Workers’ compensation system reports, visit the B.C. government website. 



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