A website for injured workers, their advocates and a better compensation system in B.C.
What’s New: October 2023
New WCB Complaint Process – Issue Resolution Office (IRO) and Fair Practices Commissioner (FPC)
The new office of the Fair Practices Commissioner (FPC) is now up and running. While the FPC has limited scope, some complaints about delay and procedural or substantive unfairness will be addressed. The scope and process for complaints, along with a biography of the appointed Commissioner, Allan Seckel, is set out at Fair Practices Commissioner for WorkSafeBC.
But please note, that before going to the FPO with a complaint, you first have to make a complaint to the Board’s Issue Resolution Office (IRO) and wait for their response. Unfortunately, a double-tier complaint process may create additional delays. Justice delayed is justice denied.It is early days but we will track how this complaint process works (or doesn’t). And of course, the FPC falls far short of an independent Fair Practices Commission recommended in the New Directions report and a formal Provincial Ombudsperson.
What Happens to the Board’s Giant Pot of Money? (October 4, 2023)
The Tyee reports that employers continue their ongoing fight to have the Board’s massive surplus returned to them. Currently, the Ministry of Labour says “No” but makes no promises about what improvements, if any, will be made for workers. What to do with WorkSafeBC’s giant pot of money?
WCB Policy Consultations – 2023
The Board’s Policy Regulation & Research Department (PRRD) is conducting public consultations on many key topics in 2023. Their Discussion Papers on these reviewed policies (with background & options for policy changes) are set out below.
- Bill 41 – Duty to Cooperate & Duty to Continue Employment
- Chronic Pain
- Mental Disorder (i.e. Psychological Injury)
- The PRRD’s current workplan includes a review of ASTD policy in 2024. Stay tuned!
A New Federal Bill (June 2023) – Consistent cancer presumptions for wildfire firefighters?
On June 23, 2023, Parliament passed Bill C-224 to establish a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting and to designate January as the “Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month”.
This Act seeks to correct the vast discrepancies in provincial compensation legislation about which types of cancers are presumed to be caused by the occupation of firefighting. Given that 95% of line-of-duty deaths from firefighting are attributable to cancer1 and that firefighters are now fighting wildfires in across the land, this is an important initiative. For the full story, see the CBC report: Cancer kills firefighters but coverage varies by province. A new law seeks to change that.
NOTE: In B.C., the presumptive cancer coverage for firefighters is found in the Firefighters’ Occupational Disease Regulation. In 2022, the B.C. government added cervical, ovarian, penile, pancreatic and thyroid cancers to this regulation, for a total of 18 presumptive cancers for firefighters. The B.C. coverage is substantial but it does not include some cancers now covered by other provinces – such as mesothelioma and soft tissue sarcoma.
- From the International Association of FireFighters (IAFF) ↩︎
“Cluster advocacy”and new alliances for compensation reform
A new approach to proving work-related causation for cancer and other diseases is called “Cluster Advocacy”, where advocates bring together “clusters” of injured workers who have all been exposed to the same toxins in the workplace. This was the approach used in the successful cancer claims of 3 health care workers in B.C., accepted by WCAT and the Supreme Court of Canada. British Columbia (Workers’ Compensation Tribunal vs. Fraser Health Authority 2016 SCC 25).
In 2021, eight clusters of injured workers in Ontario came together to form the Occupational Disease Reform Alliance (ODRA). ODRA calls for a fix a broken compensation system, with its systemic denial of coverage for diseases caused by toxic exposures. This move unites several significant toxic investigations, including the McIntrye Powder Project from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre and the Ontario Rubber Workers Project from the OHCOW (the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers). These and other cluster investigations are described in a report by the United Steelworkers.
Highlights: Notable New Decisions
Many thanks to the individuals who contribute to this section, including Kevin Love, Sarah O’Leary, Jim Parker and Jennifer Moreau.
Rear 2023 BCSC 151 (August 28, 2023) WCAT Panels cannot discount medical evidence without contrary evidence
The B.C. Supreme Court has found that a WCAT panel was “patently unreasonable” in denying a worker’s ASTD claim for bi-lateral tendonitis. The decision, Rear v. WCAT 2023 BCSC 151 cites another recent court decision in another ASTD case – McHugh v. ICBC 2023 BCSC 56.
In both cases, the Board conducted a very brief, inadequate and faulty ergonomic assessment of the worker’s workstation and in both cases, the court found that the Board Medical Advisor’s opinion was almost irrelevant due to this flawed factual assessment. In both cases, the court found that the WCAT panel rejected the worker’s medical evidence in favour of their own analysis, and this resulted in a decision that was “patently unreasonable”. Citing another earlier decision, the court states that while WCAT panels are “presumed to be an expert tribunal in relation to all matters over which it has exclusive jurisdiction, it is not presumed to have medical expertise”
This is an important court decision, affirming the importance of evidence-based decision-making in ASTD claims.
TIP: All Judicial Reviews of WCAT decisions are summarized (with links) on the WCAT website.
Pickering v. Richmond School District No. 38 2021 BCSC 1497: An employer’s response to bullying and harassment may be a “labour relations” decision and grounds for excluding compensation for an injured worker
This decision addressed the exclusion for mental disorder claims caused by a decision of the worker’s employer. The WCAT decision under review found that the employer’s general way of handling, or even not handling, a bullying and harassment complaint was “a decision” that could exclude compensation. Even though there was no dispute the worker was bullied and harassed, compensation was excluded because the employer’s response to the bullying and harassment was the predominant cause of the mental disorder. The court upheld WCAT’s decision, finding that it was reasonably supported by the evidence.
WCAT A2201926 (August 28, 2023) Re: Pensions & Retirement Age
The Amendment Act came into effect on January 1, 2021 and changed how PFI (Permanent Functional Impairment) pensions are decided under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Section 201 (3) allows the Board to make a new PFI decision for a worker, IF the worker was injured before age 63 and IF an earlier PFI decision was made before January 1, 2021 but the worker had not reached that decided age of retirement. In response, the Board amended Policy #6-41.00 and issued Practice Directive #C5-1 (PD) to guide the implementation of this new provision.
This policy and PD have been critiqued in a series of WCAT decisions, particularly for how they are applied to seriously injured workers or workers who are “competitively unemployable”.
In WCAT A2201926, the panel states:
…Board policy item C6-41.00 (and the accompanying non-binding practice Directive #C5-1) serve to create a paradox where the most severely injured workers are now much less likely to receive an extension of their retirement ages if post-injury evidence is considered. I do not believe that this was the intention of the Legislature. In WCAT Decision A2102334 I analyzed various reports and Hansard from the Legislature and postulated that the intent of the Legislature was not to create more stringent requirements regarding retirement age, but this appears to be what the Board has done by writing the policy and practice directive in such a manner. [WCAT A2201926, August 28, 2023, para. 29]
And although the panel summarizes arguments about whether Policy #6-41.00 is even consistent with the Act, he decides that he does not need to resolve this issue at this time. Instead, he follows another WCAT decision (A2201476) and exercises his discretion to NOT consider ANY post-injury evidence. With this framework, he concludes that the worker (who had been competitively unemployable 12 years) would likely have worked to age 75.
This WCAT decision illustrates how advocates and adjudicators have found ways to interpret this unfortunate policy and its adverse (and perhaps unintended) impact on the most seriously injured workers. While a policy or legislative change is needed, this “work around” may be helpful to workers, in the meantime.