Monday, February 13, 2006



Suzanne Dajczak

New Return to Work Policies

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has released the draft policies with regard to the new return to work program. While the law has not changed, the Board’s interpretation of what is suitable modified work has been revised, expanded and hopefully clarified.

When Bill 99 was introduced the legislation clearly stated that both the worker and the employer had a duty to cooperate in an early and safe return to work. As a worker you were expected to contact the employer as soon as possible after the injury occurred, maintain communication throughout your recovery and impairment, and provide medical information as requested in the form of a Functional Abilities Form

Often times, employers brought workers back to work too soon in order to meet their obligation of an early return to work. When the Board introduced the changes in Bill 99, they made it very clear to the employer community that if they did not bring workers back quickly then there would be huge cost implications for them.

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has now recognized that returning to work too quickly is not appropriate and has tried to balance the worker’s interest and the employer’s costs. In describing suitable work they have introduced 4 new concepts- safe, productive, remunerated and sustainable. In the short term the work only has to be safe. But for longer term placements all four criteria must be met.

Interestingly while productivity is addressed the Board has not re-introduced the concept of meaningful work. The job merely has to add value to the employer but not meaningful to the worker.

The Board has also introduced the concept of timely. Which states that it does not mean immediate return to work but rather has emphasized the appropriateness of the return to work given the nature of the claim, patterns of recovery (not your personal recovery but the general population) and the ability to provide suitable work.

The other major change is in the Board’s role. When Bill 99, a model of self reliance, was introduced, you as an injured worker and your employer were to find a solution independently of the Board. Now the Board will take on a more active role in monitoring return to work programs.

While the proposed changes are intended to assist by clarifying the policy, there is still a lot of room for interpretation of the new concepts and what is in fact suitable work. It is likely that there will be more appeals by both workers and employers until it is clear what this new policy really means.