As of August 14, 2020, the Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2020, Bill 23, came into force by Royal Assent, amending 34 provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA). The amended Bill includes a number of minor amendments related to small technical corrections and improvements and addresses issues like:
- Occupational health and safety investigations and convictions;
- Workers’ compensation benefits;
- The powers of WorkSafeBC’s Review Division;
- The powers and obligations of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal; and
- Collecting unpaid assessments.
While 34 changes were made to the act, the major changes are:
- Preventative health care may be provided on pending claims, if medical evidence supports that without such services or supplies, the worker is at risk of a significant deterioration in health;
- WorkSafeBC is able to reconsider a decision after 75 days have elapsed, if the decision contains an obvious error or omission,
- The 90-day waiting period regarding the effective date of the presumption relating to infections caused by communicable viral pathogens, including COVID-19, has been removed. (WorkSafeBC’s Board of Directors approved the addition of the presumption to Schedule 1 of the Act at its July 22 meeting);
- The maximum insurable earnings threshold and maximum wage rate will increase to $100,000 (from $87,100) for 2021; and
- Permanent partial disability benefits will be based on the higher of a loss of earnings or loss of function calculation.
The first three changes on this list are already in effect, while the remainder will go into effect on January 1, 2021.
The goal of the amendments was to improve the workers’ compensation system to better support injured workers and their families. Bill 23 was informed by three expert reviews completed during 2018 and 2019, which were then used by an industry expert to identify potential legislative amendments, in consultation with employers, labour representatives, and Indigenous organizations.
Doug Alley, Managing Director of the Employers’ Forum, stated, “the rationale in the government’s view for all these reviews was to make the WorkSafe system more “worker-centric.” This has been defined in the Petrie Review as: “A worker-centred approach for injured and disabled workers is one that takes into consideration the worker’s individual circumstances in applying policy and making decisions about benefit entitlement and rehabilitation measures. It is designed to maximize the worker’s recovery from the injury or disease and to restore as close as possible the worker to his pre-injury employment status without a loss of earnings.’’”
While the Act’s changes are ultimately a “win” for Labour, Doug notes that the Act will have an impact on employers: “assessment costs will certainly increase over time. Some of these changes will be very expensive i.e. a return to the dual pension system and changes to the retirement age. Certainty in claims could take a hit due to the ability for the Board to reconsider decisions.”
When we asked Doug what our members could do to prepare for the changes to be implemented, Doug emphasized a focus on claim management. He encourages all employers to carefully review all claims and stay on top of them, particularly claims for mental disorders. And, if in any doubt, use the services of the Employers’ Advisers Office.
For more information on the Workers’ Compensation Act and the most recent changes, check out the electronic copy of Bill 23 here.