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April 2021 Newsletter
In This Issue
  • Thanks for Joining Us!
  • Job-Protected Illness or Injury Leave
  • New Changes to Alberta's Workers' Compensation Act Now In Effect
  • At a Glance: Other Key Changes to the Alberta Workers' Compensation Act
  • Employee Return To Work Options
  • Workshops and Seminars For Employers
  • Quick Reference: Covid-19 Leave
  • Quick Reference: Is Covid-19 An Occupational Hazard?
  • Quick Reference: Creating a Modified Work Plan For Your Employee
  • Coach's Corner: Supporting Employees With Psychological Injuries
April 2021
Volume 8, Number 4

Thanks for Joining Us!

Welcome to our April edition of our newsletter. While I think I can safely assume we are all tired of hearing about COVID it continues to plague us - with that are continual changes to the benefits and supports to accommodate both employers and employees. I think legislation has changed more in the past couple of years than in my entire time in HR (and that's a long time). This issue may not be exciting but does give you valuable information on legislation relating to workplace injury both COVID and non-COVID.

The Alberta Government recently introduced Bill 71 which allows all working Albertans access up to 3 hours of paid leave to get each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine without fear of penalty, loss of pay or reprisal. Read more about Bill 71 here:

Keep reading for more learning! 

Job-Protected Illness or Injury Leave
Workers in Alberta are protected if they need to take long-term illlness or injury leave. An eligible employee can take up to 16 weeks of long-term illness and injury leave each calendar year.

The Basic Rules for long-term illness or injury leave state that:
  • Employees are eligible for long-term illness and injury leave if they have been employed at least 90 days with the same employer.
  • Eligible employees can take time off work without pay without risk of losing their job.
  • Employers must grant leave to eligible employees and give them their same, or equivalent, job back when the employee returns to work.
  • Employers aren’t required to pay wages or benefits during long-term illness and injury leave, unless stated in an employment contract or collective agreement.
  • Employees on long-term illness and injury leave are considered to be continuously employed for the purposes of calculating years of service.
Specific written documentation that is required by the employee includes:

Medical Certificate: The employee must provide a medical certificate to the employer that states the estimated duration of the leave. 
Starting Leave: Employees must give employers written notice as soon as is reasonable, which must include the estimated date of the employee’s return to work.
Ending Leave: Employees must provide at least 1 week’s written notice of the date they intend to return to work unless there is an agreement otherwise.

Part 2, Division 7.5 of the Employment Standards Code sets out the rules for long-term critical illness and injury leave. The legislation entitles eligible employees to a period of leave without pay, at the end of which they must be reinstated in their same, or an equivalent, job.
New Changes To Alberta's Workers' Compensation Act Now In Effect
On April 1, 2021, the second round of legislative changes introduced in Bill 47: Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, 2020 came into effect. Many of the changes under Bill 47 reflect a return to the Workers’ Compensation legislation that was in place prior to 2018.

One of the most important changes now in effect is the removal of the employer obligation to reinstate injured workers and accommodate disabled workers. This means that employers are no longer statutorily obligated to reinstate employees who have been employed by the employer for at least 12 months with WCB claims. Further, the rebuttable presumption that an employer who fails to do so is in violation of the Workers’ Compensation Act no longer applies.

The duty to reinstate has been replaced with the new “duty to cooperate” in the injured worker’s early and safe return to work. This change creates a new reciprocal worker obligation to mitigate loss of earnings from injury and to cooperate in the development of and to participate in medical and vocational rehabilitation plans. The WCB has the power to reduce or suspend wage loss benefits for workers who do not cooperate in their return to work.

However, even with the removal of the duty to reinstate injured workers under the Workers’ Compensation Act, it is important to note that employers remain obligated to accommodate disabled workers under Human Rights legislation. Employers should still obtain relevant information and conduct proper investigations into worker injuries and consider appropriate accommodation options.

Detailed information on the new legislative changes is available to all employers at WCB Alberta.
At a Glance: Other Key Changes to the Alberta Workers' Compensation Act
As of April 1, 2021 key changes to the Workers' Compensation Act include:
  • Removal of the benefit of the doubt provisions favouring workers in situations where the balance of evidence is approximately equal. However, benefit of the doubt in favour of the worker remains in place for claim eligibility and appeal decisions.
  • Employers are no longer required to contribute to health benefit plans for injured workers who are off work, as this former requirement was determined to be outside the jurisdiction of Workers’ Compensation legislation. Employers may now voluntarily choose whether to continue contributing to the health benefit plans. Injured workers will receive medical and rehabilitation benefits related to their injury while off work from the WCB.
  • The services of the former Fair Practices Office, which provided fairness reviews for workers, have been transitioned to a Fairness Review Officer reporting directly to the WCB.
  • The services of the Medical Panels Office, which resolves differences in medical opinions surrounding an injured worker’s claim, have transitioned to the Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation.
  • The time limit to appeal a WCB decision to the Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation has been reduced to one year, which is now consistent with the limitation period for review by the Dispute Resolution and Decision Review Body.
Detailed information on the new legislative changes is available to all employers at WCB Alberta.
Employee Return To Work Options
As mentioned above, new changes to the WCB Act as of April 1, 2021 introduces a new “duty to cooperate” in the injured worker’s early and safe return to work. Thus there is a new reciprocal worker obligation: to mitigate loss of earnings from injury and to cooperate in the development of and to participate in medical and vocational rehabilitation plans. 

The process involves several steps:
  • Once an employee is on an approved workers' compensation claim, a case worker will work with both the employee and employer, as well as the employees' health care provider, to develop a return-to-work plan. 
  • The case manager will review progress reports from health care providers to determine when your employee is able to return to work.
  • As an employer you are able to review what the employee can do while recovering through your organizations myWCB portal. (e.g. How much can they lift? Can they bend, drive or climb?) 
  • The case manager will contact the employee to discuss return-to-work options and will check with you as the employer to determine if there is modified or alternate work the employee can do while they continue to recover. Although the employee's injury may not be fully healed, the right work activity can help achieve the best recovery results.
Workshops and Seminars For Employers
Understanding and abiding by all Workers' Compensation Act requirements is a key to ensuring both your organization and your employees are protected and supported. The Alberta Workers' Compensation Board offers numerous online workshops and seminars that provide detailed information, with topics that include Legislative Changes; Employer Information Seminars; Return to Work (Modified) Seminars; Action Planning Seminars; and Psychological Injuries in the Workplace Seminars. All seminars are free of charge. Please visit the resources section of AB WCB.
Quick Reference: Covid-19 Leave
As of March 5, 2020, all employees who are in quarantine due to COVID-19, are eligible for 14 days of unpaid leave. Employees can request to use their available vacation pay or banked overtime.
  • All employees are eligible regardless of their length of service.
  • Employees can take this leave more than once.
  • Employees can take this leave, and any other job-protected leave, consecutively.
  • Employers and employees may explore alternate work arrangements such as working from home.
  • Employees on COVID-19 leave are considered to be continuously employed for the purpose of calculating years of service.
For more information on Covid-19 Leave, visit the Alberta Employment Standards website
Quick Reference: Is Covid-19 An Occupational Hazard?
While most cases of COVID-19 are not occupational, the illness may become an occupational hazard when work duties place a worker at increased risk of exposure to infected people, thus increasing their risk of developing the illness. This may also be the case when an infected person (a guest, contractor, supervisor, worker, etc.) brings the virus into the
workplace, which can lead to a cluster of infections, causing a
facility outbreak. 

When a worker contracts COVID-19 as a direct result of the duties of their employ-ment, they are entitled to compensation if the following conditions are met:
  • The nature of employment involves sufficient exposure to
    the source of infection,      - and -
  • The nature of employment creates a greater risk of exposure for the worker.
In every case, WCB-Alberta adjudicates work-relatedness
and benefit entitlement based on the specific and unique
circumstances of each case. 

For more information on Covid-19 and WCB Coverage, please review this fact sheet.
Quick Reference: Creating a Modified Work Plan
As a business owner or leader, you understand your organization and the tasks required to make it run properly. Creating a modified return to work plan for an employee may help mitigate losses and also provide a supportive environment for your worker while they are recovering. 

Modified work can include :
  • Changes in job tasks or functions. (e.g. less lifting, or bending)
  • Changes in workload. (e.g. hours worked per day or the work schedule)
  • Alterations to the work area and environment (e.g. work in the office, shop or front counter) or the equipment used.
  • Work normally performed by others. (e.g. administrative work)
  • Cross training or job shadowing.
  • Work that needs to be done but you currently do not have an employee assigned to complete the work.
When creating a modified work plan, it is important to ensure that the work is:
  • Achievable – given your worker's injury, are they able to do the job physically.
  • Safe – your modified work plan should not endanger your worker's recovery or safety, or the safety of others.
  • Constructive – your modified work plan should contribute to your worker's skill development and return to full duties and not cause difficulty or additional expense to your employee. (e.g. a shift change that requires additional childcare costs)
  • Productive – your worker's duties should be meaningful to your organization.

Coach's Corner: Supporting Employees With Psychological Injuries

Experiencing traumatic event(s) at work can result in a psychological injury or stress that can be personally devastating and require treatment to resolve. A workers' WCB claim for a psychological injury can be accepted when the condition develops following exposure to a traumatic event(s) at work. A traumatic event is a direct personal experience of an event or directly witnessing an event that is sudden, frightening, shocking, specific and involves actual or threatened death or serious injury to oneself or others or threat to one’s physical integrity. Examples provided by AB WCB include a variety of work-related incidents or events such as:
  • A store clerk who is the victim of a robbery.
  • A warehouse worker who witnesses the death or severe injury of a co-worker. 
  • A truck driver who is involved in a motor vehicle accident involving fatalities.
  • A social worker who was exposed to a series of cases involving severe child abuse.
Psychological injuries can include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • anxiety disorders,
  • acute stress reactions,
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
  • adjustment disorders, or
  • depression.
Awareness of and sensitivity to your employee’s condition throughout the recovery process will enhance their likelihood of safely recovering and returning to work, while minimizing risks for regression or delayed recovery.  Similarly, an effective treatment plan for one worker may not produce the same results in another worker.

For information on how to support an employee dealing with a psychological injury, please review AB WCB's FACT SHEET.
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Understanding and adhering to illness and injury leave legislation
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About Wendy Ellen Inc.
Wendy Ellen Inc. specializes in providing human resource and benefits management skills to small to mid-sized companies on an as-needed basis. From recruitment, Human Resource policy development and legislative compliance, employee retention and engagement, individual advisor/coaching, succession planning to employee development and performance, Wendy Ellen Inc. will help you protect your most valuable resource, your people.
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