Employers’ Costs to Rise with WorkSafeBC Changes that Increase Insurable Earnings
The BC NDP are moving forward with proposed changes that claim to modernize the Workers’ Compensation Act. These changes are being proposed as the BC NDP seek to provide better support to injured workers and their families and to enhance WorkSafeBC’s ability to investigate workplace incidents.
The proposed changes that are being pushed through include:
- raising the maximum annual salary amount on which workers’ compensation benefits are based up to $100,000;
- authorizing WorkSafeBC to provide preventative medical treatment before a claim is accepted;
- allowing WorkSafeBC to correct or acknowledge obvious errors of a decision past the 75-day time limit for reconsideration;
- 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. This could include: the ability to collect samples, search hard drives, seize or compel documents and obtain tele-warrants. This will provide WorkSafeBC with the power to investigate workplace safety infractions when prosecution is being considered; and
- establishing liability on corporate directors for unpaid premiums or other amounts owed to WorkSafeBC.
In addition, the government is seeking to fast track the effective date of presumptions, if established by WorkSafeBC board of directors, for occupational diseases caused by viral pathogens. This includes COVID-19 and any future pandemic. The presumption would simplify the process for workers who make a workers’ compensation claim if they contract viruses on the job. This essentially creates a system where those people that are perceived to be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 at work will have their claims automatically accepted.
Through the Employers’ Forum, many employers have strongly opposed the change in “presumptions” that a COVID-19 infection came from exposure at work. In a submission to WorkSafeBC, the Employers’ Forum states:
Insufficient scientific information and the nature of this pandemic means the workers’ compensation system can only effectively address claims on a case-by-case basis, much as public health officials are currently doing with the contact tracing process…This pandemic – like all pandemics – is a public health crisis, not a workplace health crisis.
In a system funded solely by employers, all of these changes will represent an increase in costs to employers through potentially more accepted claims, and greater costs of claims particularly for higher wage earners. This creates an additional financial and administrative burden on employers who are already facing loss of revenue due to COVID-19.
On the bright side, better WorkSafeBC coverage for high income earners may assist in keeping disability insurance premiums in check for those employers providing that benefit.