Significant Legislative Changes to the Workers' Compensation Act Now in Effect - Bill 47
A number of changes to Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”) took effect January 1, 2021 and April 1, 2021. This blog serves as a reminder to Alberta employers of the recent legislative changes with respect to work-related injuries.
Key Changes to the Act - Effective January 1, 2021:
In the event a worker is terminated from modified work due to their own willful egregious conduct, the Workers’ Compensation Board (“WCB”) will pay benefits as though the modified work is still in place and their entitlement to temporary wage loss benefits may be reduced or suspended.
To be “egregious conduct”, the worker’s conduct must be outstandingly or flagrantly bad to a reasonable person. WCB has indicated that circumstances that may involve egregious conduct include, but are not limited to, a breach of an employer or professional safety standard, rule, or policy; violence, including aggressive, threatening behavior; sexual harassment or assault involving coercion, threats, violence; deliberate destruction of property; fraud or embezzlement.
Reinstatement of Maximum Cap on Compensable Earnings
A maximum insurable earnings cap will be reinstated. Workers with a date of accident on or after January 1, 2021, will be compensated at 90% of their yearly net earnings, to a maximum of $98,700.
Cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) Calculation
The WCB will calculate COLA for compensation benefits as needed, rather than being adjusted automatically based only on the Alberta consumer price index. Workers eligible for a cost of living increase will receive 0.84% as of January 1, 2021.
Presumptive Psychological Injury Coverage
Presumptive coverage for traumatic psychological injuries will apply to first responders, correctional officers and emergency dispatchers only. If a first responder, correctional officer or emergency dispatcher is formally diagnosed with a psychological injury after exposure to a traumatic event(s) at work, WCB will presume the injury is related to their job, unless the contrary is proven.
Traumatic and chronic psychological injuries are also covered for all workers in other occupations where there is evidence to support the injury arose out of and during the course of employment.
Key Changes to the Act - Effective April 1, 2021:
Duty to cooperate for both workers and employers.
Previously, employers had an obligation under the Act to accommodate and reinstate most workers who were injured in a work-related accident to their pre-accident position or a comparable position with the same earnings. That obligation has been removed and replaced with the new “duty to cooperate”, which applies to both employers and injured workers.
Employers will have a duty to cooperate in their injured workers’ safe return to work, while injured workers will have a duty cooperate in the development and participation of their medical and vocational rehabilitation plans. Further, workers now have an explicit duty to take reasonable action to mitigate the loss of earnings from injury and to cooperate with the employer and WCB.
Employers still have a duty to accommodate workers with a disability through human rights legislation.
Reduced Appeal window
Injured workers and employers will have one year to appeal a WCB decision to the Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation. Previously the window to appeal was 2 years.
Fairness Review and Appeals Advisory Services
Fairness review services will be provided by the Fairness Review Officer through the Fair Process Review Centre.
Fairness review services will continue to be available free of charge to injured workers and employers. A fairness review officer reporting directly to the WCB will provide these services.
Appeals advisory services will continue to be available free of charge to injured workers and employers through the Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation.
Group Health Benefit Plans
Employers may voluntarily choose to continue contributing to the plans, but it will no longer be required for employers to contribute to health benefit plans for injured workers who are off work. An injured worker will receive WCB medical and rehabilitation benefits related to their injury while off work. Non-WCB benefits are outside the scope of workers’ compensation legislation.
Independent Medical Examiners
Injured workers retain the right to choose a physician to conduct an independent medical exam if an exam is requested by the WCB. Injured workers may choose the physician from a list maintained by the WCB.
For specific details about the changes, please refer to Bill 47.
If you have any questions about the impact of these recent changes on your workplace, please contact one of the members of our Labour & Employment Group.