Workers’ compensation needs improvement

DANNY CAVANAGH Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, representing 70,000 unionized workers in the province.



SaltWire Network


The Nova Scotia workers’ compensation system is a justice system for workers injured or killed in the workplace. Workers deserve justice by having the benefit of the doubt, and the system must ensure workers receive the compensation they deserve when they suffer from injuries or deaths. It must safeguard workers’ rights and ensure they are not left financially burdened due to accidents. Workers gave up their right to sue their employer for workplace injuries and deaths. Employers cannot overshadow workers’ rights in a compensation system that must ensure treatment and protection for workers who have suffered workplace injuries or death. Here are some critical aspects of what we believe would be a well-operated system: ■ Workers have the right to receive compensation for their workplace injuries or death. This includes financial benefits to cover medical expenses, lost wages and other related costs. ■ Workers have the right to compensation regardless of who was at fault for the accident. The no-fault principle ensures workers are not burdened with proving negligence or fault and can receive compensation irrespective of the circumstances. ■ Workers have the right to receive appropriate and timely medical treatment for their injuries. This includes access to doctors, specialists, rehabilitation services and any necessary ongoing care at a practitioner of their choice. ■ Workers who cannot return to their previous jobs due to injuries have the right to vocational rehabilitation services. This may include retraining, job placement assistance and support in finding suitable employment. ■ Workers must be protected against retaliation for filing a claim. Employers must be prevented from taking adverse actions, such as termination or demotion, against workers exercising their rights. ■ Workers have the right to privacy and confidentiality regarding their medical information and personal details related to their compensation claims. ■ Workers can appeal decisions made regarding compensation claims. The decision letters and other correspondences between the parties must be timely and in clear language. ■ Workers have the right to be represented by an experienced advocate throughout the compensation process. ■ Workers have the right to access clear information about the workers’ compensation system, their rights and the process for filing a claim. ■ Workers have the right to be treated fairly and with dignity throughout the compensation process. This includes being provided with clear communication, timely responses and compassionate support. There is massive distrust of the workers’ compensation system by injured workers and employers. It is widely accepted that the system is biased or unfair in its decisionmaking process. This could be due to inconsistent rulings, delays in processing claims or a perception that the system favours one party over the other. The Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia must provide universal coverage, with all workers eligible for the same benefits, a foundational principle of workers’ compensation in Canada. Workers’ compensation still does not cover all workers and employers in all industries. In Nova Scotia, 26 per cent of workers are not covered, and it is estimated that 50,000 workers have no insurance coverage in the event of a workplace injury. A workplace with fewer than three workers is exempt from workers’ compensation. This exemption exists only in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This needs to change. The WCB needs to take a balanced approach. Rates are just one part of the economies of scale; workers’ pensions must be adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation. Injured workers must meet their family needs and maintain their standard of living, which requires fair and just compensation, including annual increases. We must never create an environment where workers feel compelled to hide their injuries or push themselves beyond their physical capabilities, leading to more severe health consequences. Focusing on reducing injury rates may inadvertently disincentivize workers from filing legitimate injury claims, fearing that it could negatively affect the employer’s injury rate numbers. This can deprive workers of the support they need for recovery and the compensation they deserve. Workers’ compensation must focus on implementing comprehensive and sustainable safety measures, fostering a culture of safety and continuously improving workplace conditions to protect the well-being of workers. The goal should not focus on numbers over safety. When workers have access to paid family leave, they are more likely to return to work with renewed focus and dedication, knowing that their employer values their well-being and supports their family. The workers’ compensation system and employers have a legal and ethical obligation to ensure the health and safety of workers. This includes addressing mental health injuries with the same care and support as physical injuries. It also reflects the evolving understanding of mental health and the recognition of its impact on overall well-being. When workers’ compensation doctors deem injured workers eligible to resume work against the advice of their own treating physicians and medical professionals, it jeopardizes the safety and well-being of the workers. Returning to work too soon can exacerbate their injuries, potentially leading to further harm or complications. The WCB must ensure that workers are not revictimized and that their safety remains a top priority. Allowing workers to fully recover before returning to work can minimize these costs and losses. The workers’ compensation system must have independent advocates to address worker concerns and act as a neutral party to provide an avenue for workers to voice grievances and ensure fair treatment. We all want to reduce workplace deaths, a shared responsibility involving employers, employees, government agencies and society. Workplace deaths are tragic. Every worker has the right to a safe and healthy work environment, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of all workers. By prioritizing safety measures and reducing workplace hazards, we can prevent unnecessary loss of life and protect workers’ rights.