Paradigm Shift: WSIB Releases Interim Work Reintegration Policies
BY: MARK SENICAR
The WSIB has released its interim Work Reintegration (WR) policies, which support the new Work Reintegration Program integrating Early and Safe Return to Work (ESRTW), Re-employment, and Labour Market Re-entry. This program called Work Reintegration, currently has interim policies in effect, pending a stakeholder consultation process
The previous LMR program was criticized as being a costly program that was ineffective at retraining injured workers. The ultimate goal of the program was to allow them to acquire suitable work based on their new skills. The program’s training was not considered to be credible by employers, a complaint the WSIB has publicly stated that it received. It was also submitted by the relevant stakeholders that the LMR program did not offer high quality education and training courses.
Moving forward there will be more worker intervention, input and general direction by the worker in the “new” work re-integration program. The core objective behind the changes is to create greater obligations for employers to eliminate workplace accidents and to ensure employers participation in the Return to Work protocol when workplace injuries occur.
So what are the interim policies of the new Worker Reintegration (WR) program? You can visit the WSIB’s website and read the policies directly from there: http://www.wsib.on.ca/wsib/wsibsite.nsf/public/PolicyWR. However, the following are short summaries of some the big changes that will be relevant to you.
If employers do not co-operate with the return-to-work process, the WSIB can impose significant penalties on top of your CAD-7 costs. These penalties will incur if the employer refuses to meet or communicate with the WSIB or the worker, fails to provide adequate and/or accurate information about possible suitable work, or behaves abusively towards the worker or the WSIB’s representatives.
Of note is the fact that the Human Rights Code has been referenced for its accommodation obligation in the WR policies. The accommodation obligation under the Code has been held by the Human Rights Tribunal to be broader than the WSIB’s re-employment obligation. According to Policy 19-02-02, the WSIB “expects” all parties to comply with the Code’s accommodation obligations. It is possible the WSIB will not try to enforce the Code through the return-to-work process, as it has stated that it “respects” the primacy of the Human Rights Tribunal, but with all new policies, it is a wait and see approach.
Other significant changes that employers should be aware of is that the new WSIB policies include attempts to facilitate return-to-work meetings at an earlier stage—within 12 weeks of the accident date. This implies that injured workers will not be allowed off work for more months at a time without, at minimum, consideration of their return-to-work options. The appeals process for return-to-work issues will become quicker, and hopefully this will translate to faster “appeal decisions being made with respect to these issues.
Accordingly, these policies will have a dramatic impact on employers especially in the return to work protocol since there will be increased obligations to provide suitable work but also maintain the employment relationship with injured workers. Additionally under the WR, the original employers will be expected to play a bigger role during and AFTER the worker’s retraining, which may raise new workplace accommodation issues.
In our next article, we will provide more insight on the above referenced policies for roofing contractors across Ontario since it is still quite early in the process at this point to determine the actual impact the new program will have on employers. Nevertheless as we’ve referenced in our articles in the past the paradigm has shifted significantly to construction employers across Ontario and as a result of this shift, employers should exercise due diligence and understand their obligations.
Mark Senicar is the Managing Director of SE-GA Workplace Consulting P.C. and provides Workers’ Compensation expertise to construction and non-construction employers in Ontario.