Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice. She has been practicing law since 1994, with brief stints away to begin raising children. Susan has experience in many areas of law, but is most drawn to areas in which she can make a positive difference in people’s lives, including employment law. She has been a member of the Law Society of Alberta since 1994 and a member of the Law Society of British Columbia since 2015. Susan grew up in Saskatchewan. Her parents were both entrepreneurs, and her father was also a union leader who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of workers. Before moving to B.C., Susan practiced law in both Calgary and Fort McMurray, AB. Living and practicing law in Fort McMurray made a lasting impression on Susan. It was in this isolated and unique community that her interest in employment law, and Canada’s oil sands industry, took hold. In 2013, Susan moved to the Okanagan with her family, where she currently resides. Photo: Contributed

Kootnekoff: WCB review wants your comments

Filed a Workers’ Compensation Board claim within the past 15 years?

If you have filed a Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) claim within the past 15 years or so in BC, you may be well aware that dealing with the B.C. WCB can extremely frustrating.

In 1917, the Workers Compensation Act (the Act) was born out of a compromise between workers and employers. This is sometimes referred to as the “historic compromise”, under which workers gave up the right to sue their employers or fellow workers for injuries on the job in return for an employer funded no-fault insurance system.

In 2002 and 2003, the Liberal government at the time made a series of changes to the Act aimed at reducing costs of B.C.’s WCB system.

The problem was, the costs were being reduced on the backs of injured workers.

Although employers generally continue to experience immunity from lawsuits by injured workers for workplace injuries, workers are not consistently enjoying the fruits of the historic compromise.

The historic compromise has broken down in BC. It has become one sided.

The ways in which the WCB gradually pushes workers out of the system is insidious, persistent, and not typically immediately apparent to workers.

It begins early on in a claim. A worker may not realize that a letter from the WCB that seemed positive may in hindsight be not so positive after all.

By the time the worker realizes this, the narrow appeal period has usually expired.

Workers in this province are routinely being left unable to work as a result of workplace injuries, and at the same time, being denied the compensation to which they are legally entitled. This is one of the outcomes that the WCB system was to protect against.

Injured workers and their families are vulnerable and are in no state to fight for their rights. They may be in hospital for extended periods, or at home, unable to cope with their injuries. Their days may be filled with health care appointments, getting the rest they need, or being subdued on painkillers. A deceased worker’s family may be overcome with grief.

These people may be in the midst of significant tragedy. They need care, compassion and respect. They ought not to have to fight to obtain the compensation to which they are entitled.

Thank goodness the workers compensation system in BC is currently under review.

Among other things, the review seeks to ensure a worker-centred approach within our WCB system. The goals include improving fairness for workers and improving measures to protect workers’ safety.

Many changes are required in the Act and the manner in which claims are administered. The period within which claims may be filed must be extended. Limitation and appeal periods must be extended. It must be made abundantly clear that the WCB owes a duty of good faith to workers and their families. If your house burns down, your home insurer is well aware of its duty of good faith toward you. The WCB, however, administers the Act as though it has no such duty.

If you have experienced the harshness of the WCB, either as an injured worker, or as a relative or friend of such a worker, or you are a concerned citizen, the WCB review wants to hear from you.

Anyone may submit comments. They need not be formal. They may be in point form or hand-written.

Comments submitted in other languages are being translated. Hearings are also being held on dates and at locations listed on the website.

Appointments are first come first served and may be booked by calling 1-833-633-6790.

Comments can be submitted online at engage.gov.bc.ca.

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