Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (“WSIB”) has announced that it will be making significant changes to its vocational rehabilitation, or Labour Market Re-Entry (“LMR”), program. This program is generally used to assist workers in returning to the workforce following injuries that result in a permanent impairment, and where the worker is unable to return-to-work with the preinjury employer.

Vocational rehabilitation has been part of the workers’ compensation in Ontario since the 1930s. In 1990, provincial legislation brought in a more prescriptive role for the compensation board’s staff and put obligations on employers to offer to re-employ injured workers for up to two years following their injury. During that period, the board had its own vocational rehabilitation staff to assist with return to work and workplace reintegration (Source: http://www.wsib.on.ca/wsib/wsibsite.n sf/public/NewsWorkReintegration).

In 1998, the WSIB shifted to a selfreliance model that put responsibility for return-to-work in the hands of the employers and workers. The vocational rehabilitation program was changed, with its goal being to help injured workers who could not return to the preinjury employer by providing them with retraining and support to re-enter the open labour market. LMR case management was outsourced to third party providers who would work with secondary service providers to deliver academic, language, vocational and job search training. The WSIB’s role in the process was to monitor progress and provide dispute resolution.

The WSIB determined that since the changes in 1998, its re-training programs have not been as effective as they anticipated in helping workers return to work or restore their earnings. The Board conducted a comprehensive review of its LMR and return-to-work programs in 2009 to identify the root of the problem. Stakeholder consultations also supported the need for significant change to the WSIB’s approach.

The WSIB has announced that late in 2010, it will integrate its LMR and return-to-work programs into a new Work Integration Program. The WSIB has stated that the goals of the program are to help injured workers return to decent, safe and sustainable jobs and to give Ontario’s employers more support from the WSIB to retain and re-train their injured employees (Source: http://www.wsib.on.ca/wsib/wsibsite.n sf/public/NewsWorkReintegration). The new program will help:

  • maintain the relationship between the worker and the original employer  
  • provide direct oversight by the WSIB for all retraining services for injured workers  
  • increase worker input and choice in their vocational goals  
  • make greater use of Ontario’s public education system for injured worker retraining  
  • provide workers with marketable skills and valid credentials  

Under the new system, the WSIB will phase out the use of external LMR case managers and WSIB staff will manage individual cases. This new approach will be less prescriptive than the former vocational rehabilitation model, and is also a move away from the self-reliance model as the WSIB has recognized that workers and employers need the WSIB’s help to achieve successful work reintegration outcomes. The new system will feature a strong focus on work retention with the injury employer, direct oversight of all retraining services, and increased worker input and choice.  

The new system will mean changes for all parties involved in LMR – employers, workers, WSIB staff, and primary and secondary service providers with the goal of better and more sustainable outcomes for injured workers.