Proposed Changes to Alberta Workplace Health and Safety Legislation

Authors: Megan Kheong, Walter Pavlic, Q.C., Connor Ferguson

On November 5, 2020, the Government of Alberta introduced Bill 47, Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, 2020 (“Bill 47”) which, if passed, will bring key changes to both the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Workers’ Compensation Act, and other legislation.

If Bill 47 is passed, changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act will come into effect on proclamation and changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act will come into effect on January 1, 2021 or April 1, 2021, depending on the provision. Some of the most significant proposed changes to the legislation are outlined below:

Proposed Changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act

  • Committees and representatives: The requirement for health and safety committees and representatives to be present on work sites with multiple employers and a prime contractor will be removed. The prime contractor will be obligated to have a contact to address health and safety issues between employers and workers. Occupational health and safety directors may still require a representative be present on any work site.
  • Reporting: the amended legislation will clearly define potentially serious incidents and clarify reporting requirements.
  • Refusing unsafe work: the rules and definitions around dangerous work refusals will be clarified to simplify the process for dealing with such complaints.

Proposed Changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act

  • Insurable earnings cap: The maximum insurable earnings cap for workers who have become injured or ill will be reinstated (January 1, 2021).
  • Presumptive psychological coverage: The presumptive coverage for psychological injuries will be limited for the following occupations: firefighters, police officers, peace officers, correctional officers, paramedics and emergency dispatchers. Workers who do not fall into these occupations can still submit work-related psychological injury claims though the regular claim process (January 1, 2021).
  • Health benefit plans: Employers will no longer be required to contribute to health benefit plans for an employee who is off work as a result of an injury (April 1, 2021). Employers may voluntarily do so, and we recommend that employers speak with legal counsel before electing to discontinue benefits.
  • Reinstating injured workers: Employers will no longer be legally obligated to reinstate an injured worker, but may voluntarily do so. Employers will still have a duty to accommodate under human rights legislation, and a duty to co-operate in an injured worker’s early and safe return to work (April 1, 2021).
  • Choosing a physician: Where an independent medical examination is required by the Workers’ Compensation Board, an injured worker will have the right to choose a physician from a list maintained by the Board (April 1, 2021).
  • Reducing appeal time limit: The deadline for injured workers and employers to appeal a Workers’ Compensation Board decision has been reduced from two years to one year (April 1, 2021).
  • Benefit of the doubt favouring workers: Benefit of the doubt provisions favouring workers will be removed for medical panel responses to medical dispute questions, but will remain for claim eligibility and appeal decisions (April 1, 2021).

All employers governed by Alberta labour and employment legislation should be mindful of the full list of changes, which can be reviewed here, and the significant effect they could have on your workforce. MLT Aikins is available to help employers better understand these changes and the particular impact they may have on your organization.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.