Second Round of Changes to Alberta Workers’ Compensation Act Come into Effect

On April 1, 2021, the second round of legislative changes introduced in Bill 47: Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, 2020 came into effect. Many of the changes under Bill 47 reflect a return to the Workers’ Compensation legislation that was in place prior to 2018.

One of the most important changes now in effect is the removal of the employer obligation to reinstate injured workers and accommodate disabled workers. This means that employers are no longer statutorily obligated to reinstate employees who have been employed by the employer for at least 12 months with WCB claims. Further, the rebuttable presumption that an employer who fails to do so is in violation of the Workers’ Compensation Act no longer applies.

The duty to reinstate has been replaced with the new “duty to cooperate” in the injured worker’s early and safe return to work. This change creates a new reciprocal worker obligation to mitigate loss of earnings from injury and to cooperate in the development of and to participate in medical and vocational rehabilitation plans. The WCB has the power to reduce or suspend wage loss benefits for workers who do not cooperate in their return to work.

However, even with the removal of the duty to reinstate injured workers under the Workers’ Compensation Act, it is important to note that employers remain obligated to accommodate disabled workers under Human Rights legislation. Employers should still obtain relevant information and conduct proper investigations into worker injuries and consider appropriate accommodation options.

Other key changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act effective April 1, 2021 include:

  • Removal of the benefit of the doubt provisions favouring workers in situations where the balance of evidence is approximately equal. However, benefit of the doubt in favour of the worker remains in place for claim eligibility and appeal decisions.
  • Employers are no longer required to contribute to health benefit plans for injured workers who are off work, as this former requirement was determined to be outside the jurisdiction of Workers’ Compensation legislation. Employers may now voluntarily choose whether to continue contributing to the health benefit plans. Injured workers will receive medical and rehabilitation benefits related to their injury while off work from the WCB.
  • The services of the former Fair Practices Office, which provided fairness reviews for workers, have been transitioned to a Fairness Review Officer reporting directly to the WCB.
  • The services of the Medical Panels Office, which resolves differences in medical opinions surrounding an injured worker’s claim, have transitioned to the Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation.
  • The time limit to appeal a WCB decision to the Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation has been reduced to one year, which is now consistent with the limitation period for review by the Dispute Resolution and Decision Review Body.

If you have any questions about the changes to Alberta’s workers’ compensation system or need assistance with a WCB claim, please contact the McLennan Ross LLP Labour & Employment team.