Ontario Government Acting To Provide Fairer Treatment Of Injured Workers

Archived Release

Ontario Government Acting To Provide Fairer Treatment Of Injured Workers

Minister Of Labour Sets Firm Deadline For Next Steps TORONTO, June 1 - The Ontario government is pleased that fairness for injured workers will be enhanced by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board's changes to disability benefits for injured workers and their survivors, said Labour Minister Chris Bentley. "The injured workers of this province must be treated with fairness, dignity and respect," Bentley told injured workers at the Ontario legislature. "Today's announcement by the WSIB is an important step. It will put more money into thousands of injured workers' pockets. More must be done, however, and I have set a firm deadline of September 30, 2005 for the WSIB to report on its ongoing reforms in key areas - which I expect to see implemented soon after." Today, the WSIB announced it is changing the way it factors Canada Pension Plan disability payments into its own benefit calculations for disabled workers. The measure, retroactive to January 1, 2004, will result in extra money for more than 3,000 injured workers and their survivors. The minister has consulted workers and employers about the need for improvements to WSIB processes. By the end of September, the WSIB is to report its recommendations from its ongoing review in the following key areas: - Return to Work/Labour Market Re-entry - workers must not be penalized for trying to return to work, nor forced back too quickly. The issue of deeming, where benefits are based on potential rather than actual earnings, must be examined. - Faster decision-making - decisions must be made as quickly as possible, and unnecessary delays and procedures eliminated. - Independence - creating more options to change benefits to lump sum from monthly payments so that workers have more flexibility to organize their finances. - Simplification - forms and rules are often too complicated and should be redesigned for easier use by workers and employers accessing the system. "A lot of work has been done over the past 18 months to restore the financial health of the WSIB, and to improve service in many areas," said Bentley. "This work must be accelerated, and give us tangible results. That is why I have given a firm deadline for the next steps on the road to a fairer system." Disponible en français www.gov.on.ca/lab/ Backgrounder ------------------------------------------------------------------------- June 1, 2005 ONTARIO GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE TO INJURED WORKERS The Ontario government, acting through its arms-length agency, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, is committed to treating injured workers with fairness, dignity and respect. In response to concerns expressed by injured workers, the WSIB has undertaken initiatives to improve service delivery. Labour Minister Chris Bentley has set a deadline of September 30, 2005 for the WSIB to provide legislative and non-legislative recommendations for further progress in four major areas. Financial measures Since de-indexation of injured worker benefits began in 1994, some injured workers have experienced financial hardship. However, the employer- funded WSIB is constrained in its response by its unfunded liability, the difference between its assets and obligations. On June 1, 2005 the WSIB announced it is changing the formula it uses to factor in Canada Pension Plan (CPP) disability benefits when it calculates the benefits it pays to injured workers. The move, effective from January 1, 2004, will increase payments for workers disabled by workplace injury. The CPP adjustment is a step toward greater fairness. The government and the WSIB continue to work to rebuild the financial foundation of the board, which is a necessary precondition for further benefit enhancements. One example of progress to date is an information-sharing agreement with the Canada Revenue Agency that is identifying thousands of businesses not registered with the WSIB and not paying premiums. Bentley has asked the WSIB to review the retirement income system, under which workers get either a lump sum or monthly payments. Raising the level at which lump sum payments are made would give injured workers more control over their finances and reduce administrative costs for the WSIB. Returning injured workers to employment Independent audits have identified areas for improvement of the WSIB's Labour Market Re-entry and Return to Work Programs. Among other things, injured workers have raised concerns that the programs do not address their needs, require a return to work before they have adequately recovered, and sometimes place workers in unsuitable jobs. The WSIB has been working with stakeholders to bring fairness, clarity and transparency to programs that workers have said are complex and confusing. The WSIB is changing its strategy to provide better guidance for employers and workers on acceptable return to work practices, ensure suitable work is found, and shift the emphasis to a "timely" as opposed to "early" return to work in recognition of the extent of an injury. Adjudication Each injured worker's case is unique and, depending on the extent of the injuries suffered, can require numerous "adjudications" on what benefits the injured worker is entitled to receive. It is estimated that claims adjudicators make over one million decisions on entitlements a year. The system is necessarily complex, but injured workers and employers have said it is too slow, legalistic and difficult to understand. The WSIB appointed a Director of Adjudication effective June 2005 to find ways to improve the system. This follows the earlier creation of the Adjudication Best Practices Group, which includes worker representatives. The WSIB is now working to establish best practices, including improving communications so workers understand the process better, taking steps to make the system more transparent, and studying the inclusion of injured workers in adjudicator training programs. The aim is to make the system faster without compromising the rights of injured workers and employers. Already, these initiatives are producing results beneficial to injured workers, such as new guidelines that allow adjudicators to extend the time period for appeals. Simplification Both injured workers and employers have complained that the WSIB system is too complex. In response, the board has begun to review and revise all its forms for ease of understanding. Already, the board has made progress in simplifying its communications. It has produced a new guidebook, available in 12 languages, that gives vital information to injured workers pursuing a claim. Additionally, the board has developed products for the blind and visually impaired. Recently, the WSIB posted its operations manual on its website to provide the public with greater access to its policies and procedures. Other matters: Occupational disease Increasingly, the WSIB is dealing with cases arising from occupational diseases. In order to treat workers fairly, it established the Occupational Disease Advisory Panel and is now using its recommendations to develop policies for occupational disease and guidelines to adjudicate occupational disease claims. The WSIB's board of directors is to consider the final report at its June 2005 meeting. If approved, there will be clearer and consistent guidelines in determining occupational disease cases and staff will be appropriately trained. Disponible en français www.gov.on.ca/lab/For further information: Contacts: Peter Fitzpatrick, Minister's Office, 416-326-7710; Belinda Sutton, Ministry of Labour, (416) 326-7405