B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains. (Hansard TV)

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains. (Hansard TV)

B.C. NDP changing WorkSafeBC regulations to respond to COVID-19

Employers say reclassifying coronavirus could be ‘ruinous’

The B.C. government is pushing ahead with changes to increase insurable earnings under WorkSafeBC rules, and to give the insurer the ability to accept COVID-19 and other viral ailments as work-related without the current 90-day waiting period and investigation.

Labour Minister Harry Bains introduced amendments in the B.C. legislature July 14, emphasizing an increase in maximum disability benefits from $87,000 to $100,000, and authorizing WorkSafeBC to provide preventive medical treatment before a claim is accepted.

Changes to the Workers Compensation Act would also affect the rules for COVID-19 and other viral illness claims, which WorkSafeBC is already reviewing by the hundreds. Between 50 and 60 per cent of those claims are being accepted, Bains said.

A labour ministry statement on the changes puts it this way: “The legislation will fast-track the effective date of presumptions if established by WorkSafeBC board of directors for occupational diseases caused by viral pathogens. The presumption would simplify the process for workers who make a workers’ compensation claim if they contract viruses on the job. This would ensure that people who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 at work are able to access benefits more quickly.”

Employers have strongly opposed the change in “presumptions” that a coronavirus infection came from exposure at work. In a submission to WorkSafeBC, the Employers’ Forum argues that a better remedy is the national sick pay program proposed by Premier John Horgan and other premiers to deal with work lost due to pandemic rules and effects.

“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 win the contact tracing process,” the organization representing large and small employers said in its submission. “This pandemic – like all pandemics – is a public health crisis, not a workplace health crisis.

2019: Employer group drops out of WorkSafeBC review in protest

2017: B.C. Liberals promise to cap WorkSafeBC surplus premiums

“Embedding public health costs in WorkSafeBC premiums could be ruinous for businesses who are unable to absorb any further fixed or variable cost increases because of the ongoing fallout from COVID-19, and could undermine the long-term financial stability of WorkSafeBC.”

Bains said the increase in insurable earnings represents a cost to employers, who fund the no-fault compensation system through payroll assessments. The government’s planned changes allow for “stability in premiums” for this year and the next two, Bains said.


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tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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