Proposed Changes to Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Act

The Alberta Government has proposed significant changes to both the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Act and the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act. The proposed changes were introduced on November 27, 2017 as part of Bill 30: An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans.

If Bill 30 is passed, most of the changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act will come into effect on January 1, 2018 with most of the changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act following on June 1, 2018.

Significant Changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act:

  • An independent Fair Practices Office will be established to provide additional resources to help injured workers navigate the WCB system.
  • Appeal advisers will report to the Fair Practices Office and will provide extended representation for workers at judicial reviews.
  • A Code of Rights and Conduct will be established to outline the rights of workers and employers.
  • The cap on insurable earnings of $98,700 per year will be removed, allowing all workers to be compensated for 90% of their expected earnings.
  • Cost of living adjustments will now be based on Alberta’s Consumer Price Index without reductions.
  • All spouses of workers killed on the job will receive benefits for at least five years, and spouses with children will receive benefits until the youngest child is either 18 or 25, if that child is in college or university.
  • If, on the date of accident, the worker is either younger than 25 or is currently enrolled in a vocational or academic program, they will receive the higher of:
    • 90% of their net earnings calculated as at the date of accident; or
    • 90% of the Alberta average net weekly earnings during the previous year.
  • Retirement benefits will reflect the impact of the worker’s injury on his/her retirement savings.
  • Workers will have greater flexibility in selecting health treatment professionals.
  • Coverage will be extended to all occupations for psychological injuries where a worker has experienced a traumatic incident.
  • Employers will be required to provide injured workers with their existing health and benefit programs for one year following the date of injury.
  • Employers will be required to accommodate an injured worker’s return to work to the point of undue hardship.

Significant Changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act:

  • The Occupational Health and Safety Act will enshrine three basic rights for workers:
    1. the right to refuse unsafe work without reprisal (the shift from a “responsibility” to a “right” places more emphasis on employers to ensure a safe workplace);
    2. the right to know about potential hazards and have access to basic health and safety information;
    3. the right to participate in health and safety discussions.
  • Mandatory joint work site health and safety committees for workplaces with more than 20 employees, including on projects lasting more than 90 days.
  • Mandatory health and safety representatives in workplaces with between five and 19 workers, including on projects lasting more than 90 days.
  • Workplace violence and harassment will be defined and the roles of employers and supervisors in preventing these occurrences with be outlined.
  • Workers will be paid while a stop work order is in effect.
  • Employers will be required to report “near-miss” incidents that could have resulted in death or serious injury.
  • Courts will be able to impose creative sentences, including the ability to order offenders to provide funding for research on preventative medicine or health and safety training programs.
  • Greater information related to employers – including orders issued, tickets issued to employers, investigation reports, etc. – will be published.
  • Occupational health and safety laws will now be reviewed every five years to ensure relevance.

The changes proposed in Bill 30 will have a wide-ranging and significant effect on employers in Alberta.

All employers should be mindful of the proposed changes and proactive in reviewing and revising all employment policies, agreements and procedures to ensure compliance with the new statutory requirements.

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.