British Columbia proposes changes to labour laws

‘Changes are an important step in modernizing the Workers Compensation Act, ensuring workers and their families get the support they need’

British Columbia proposes changes to labour laws
The proposed changes focus on improving supports for injured workers, while also advancing worker safety.

British Columbia has proposed changes to provincial labour laws to provide better support to injured workers and their families and enhance WorkSafeBC’s ability to investigate workplace incidents, while keeping premiums low.

“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,” said Harry Bains, minister of labour. “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 proposed changes focus on improving supports for injured workers, while also advancing worker safety. The changes include:

  • raising the maximum annual salary amount on which workers’ compensation benefits are based
  • authorizing WorkSafeBC to provide preventative medical treatment before a claim is accepted
  • giving powers to the court to issue WorkSafeBC search and seizure warrants that are appropriate for investigating workplace safety infractions
  • giving people a voice in serious workplace prosecutions and trials by using victim impact statements
  • increasing the maximum insurable earnings to $100,000 from $87,100 so 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 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
  • 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
  • allowing the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal to hear cases relating to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Human Rights Code

The purpose of a WorkSafeBC investigation is to determine the cause of a serious incident and any contributing factors, so that similar incidents can be prevented from happening in the future, said the government.

This legislation 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. This would ensure that people who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 at work are able to access benefits more quickly, said the government.

The proposed amendments are informed by three expert reviews completed during 2018 and 2019.

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.

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.

British Columbia recently announced it is extending federal employment insurance exemptions and the provincial temporary crisis supplement to help ensure people on income or disability assistance and low-income seniors will continue to have access to the supports they need during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, WorkSafeBC will be holding a virtual public hearing on proposed amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation to be streamed live on Sept. 30, 2020.