Back in 2000* Retired Judge Samuel Freeman issued a report, having been requested by the then sitting government to review the WCB appeals process.
Injured workers, advocates, unions, and lawyers found many of the report’s findings supported their experience, particularly workplace accidents that resulted in significant disabling injuries:
“Retired judge Samuel Friedman released a report two weeks ago that expressed concern about what appeared to be a "well-entrenched culture of denial within the WCB".
Mary Cameron, the president of Alberta's Workers Compensation Board at the time attempted to downplay this ‘highly critical government report’ that described the WCB as "unfair and unaccountable".
Fast forward 18 years….
The Alberta Government conducted another review of the Alberta WCB in 2016-2017, and as per the executive summary:
“…the WCB can be overly efficient, and tends to manage the claim in aggressive accordance with strict rules, even when the resulting decisions fly in the face of common sense. This raises frustration among workers and employers alike and it contributes to a perception that the WCB has a “culture of denial”…
Rather than decision-making that focuses on assisting people with their injuries, illnesses or concerns, the system’s decision-making currently focuses on efficient management of claims. Too often, it seems, the latter is given attention at the expense of the former.”
Many believe that this ‘culture of denial’ at the Alberta WCB has been compounded through poorly informed decision-making by the WCB Board over the years. Individuals and groups have raised concerns that the Board has not exercised adequate due diligence to ensure that the Worker’s Compensation Act is properly reflected within WCB policy and procedure.
I speak of this from first-hand experience.
As a case manager I spoke up in 1995 about changes to policy and procedure that I did not believe were congruent with the Workers` Compensation Act. My colleagues and I were encouraged by upper management and the CEO to bring any concerns we had to our supervisor or manager. I did both. Not too shortly thereafter I left the employ of the WCB, disheartened by my experience, to pursue another opportunity.
When I commenced full-time independent advocacy in 1999 I began assisting an injured workers` group which led to the Edmonton Journal contacting me. They asked for my opinion on the culture at the WCB and I obliged. There is a scan of the article below.
Sadly I was not surprised by the most recent report. Many of the 2017 findings speak to the difficulties that injured workers have experienced over decades when there is a lack of empathy, objectivity, and fairness.
I find the landscape has not changed much over the last decade or two. It’s relevant to note that the Millard Task Force report, circa 1992, supported some of the same concerns as the most recent review in 2017. The Millard Task Force report was less than objective with many parties alleging WCB’s over involvement, and a flawed government review process. In short order the review simply gathered dust without effecting any substantive change, as I recall.
However, I am only cautiously optimistic about the new report bringing needed change. The sitting government and the WCB inform us they are actively engaged in review driven change via legislative and policy revision. We have seen some of those changes come into effect very recently.
I want to be optimistic that the 2017 review will lead to lasting change. Change that results in an objective and fair interpretation and application of the Workers Compensation Act through a culture that is less corporate and more caring.
Until then, I will continue to do my best to assist injured workers who have been wrongfully denied benefits and services.
*I went before the MLA review panel in April 2000 and made a presentation with supporting documentation. That submission remains in my possession and I’m happy to share it with anyone who may be interested in a retrospective view on matters. Matters that were of concern to injured worker groups that I was working with at the time, and myself. Many of the same concerns remain today.