As part of the sweeping changes to Alberta’s workers’ compensation legislation announced by the Alberta Government on November 27, 2017, when it tabled Bill 30: An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans (“Bill 30”), employers will be facing strict return to work requirements effective September 1, 2018.
Section 39 of Bill 30 adds Part 5.1, Obligation to Reinstate Worker and Continue to Provide Benefits, to the Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”). With specific exceptions, the return to work obligation will apply to workers who are unable to work as a result of an accident and were employed at the date of the accident for at least 12 continuous months on a full-time or regular part-time basis. Workers temporarily employed for emergency or disaster work or those volunteering as first responders, and other workers who are deemed to be employees under the WCA, are some of the workers excepted from the return to work requirement.
In addition to the return to work obligation, employers will be required under the WCA to:
- accommodate workers to the extent that accommodation does not cause undue hardship;
- reinstate the worker to the position they held on the date of the accident or provide comparable employment if the worker is medically and physically able to perform the essential duties of the worker’s employment;
- offer the worker suitable work in the event they cannot perform the essential duties of the worker’s employment;
- cooperate with the worker’s early and safe return to work by keeping in contact with the worker as soon as possible after the accident and during the worker’s recovery; and
- continue to make contributions for the worker’s health benefits.
Employers will be deemed to have breached their return to work obligations where the employer has reinstated a worker and then terminates that worker’s employment within six months after reinstatement or while the worker is receiving compensation under the WCA. Employers found to have breached their return to work obligations may be subject to:
- an administrative penalty not exceeding the amount of the worker’s net average earnings for the year before the accident; and
- an administrative penalty not exceeding the amount paid to the worker by the Workers’ Compensation Board for services that would have been paid by the worker’s health benefits had the employer continued to make contributions for the worker’s health benefits.
However, nothing in the return to work amendments to the WCA prevent an employer from refusing to continue to employ, terminating, laying off, suspending, altering the status of a worker’s employment, or transferring a worker where the employer can demonstrate the employer’s decision to do so was for a business reason made in good faith and was not affected by the worker being or having been unable to work as a result of the accident.
The additions outlined above will only apply to accidents that occur on or before September 1, 2018.