More time-loss work injuries should be covered by workers' compensation, says a British Columbia researcher and consultant.
"Despite the legislative intent of workers' compensation laws, the reality is that many — perhaps most — of those workers who miss time from work due to a work-related disability do not receive workers' compensation for their lost wages and that includes those people who have workers' compensation coverage," said Terry Bogyo.
Many employers, family members and even policy-makers assume workers' compensation covers every case of work-related, time-loss injury.
In fact, there are many gaps in coverage, Bogyo said.
"The financial impact of even a brief interruption in earnings due to a work-related injury or disease can be devastating," he said.
"Many workers have little or no financial reserves."
Bogyo said it is important for policy-makers, workers and employers to be aware of and understand any gaps in workers' comp coverage that exist in their jurisdictions.
"If the proportion of accepted and compensated work-related time-loss injuries is unacceptably low, then administrative and policy actions can be taken to improve the percentage," he said.
Bogyo has a number of suggestions.
Workers' compensation coverage in some jurisdictions should be expanded to include currently excluded occupations and sectors.
"In Western Canada this applies more to Alberta and Saskatchewan than to British Columbia," Bogyo said. "B.C. includes almost all occupations and sectors. Alberta has some exceptions and Saskatchewan has many."
Coverage should be promoted to those who have the option of coverage, but until now have opted out.
"Most workers who have been excluded from coverage have the option to be included," Bogyo said.
Although construction tradespeople who operate as sole proprietors, such as tilers or drywallers, are not required to be covered, many do opt in.
"I can tell you that I have had widows crying in my office after their partners have been killed in the course of work and have no coverage because they did not register with WorkSafeBC, or they let their coverage lapse and had no support except to go on welfare," Bogyo described.
Workers and employers should be educated on their rights and obligations.
"Think about immigrants and temporary foreign workers who arrive with different cultural references, perhaps fear of authority, or maybe fear of deportation, or speak a different language," Bogyo said.
"Is handing them a pamphlet enough to say they are adequately informed of their rights?"
What about a small entrepreneur hiring his first employees because his business suddenly takes off?
"Is sending a registration kit enough to say he or she is fully informed of their obligations?" he said.
"My belief is that more has to be done for groups like these and that a website or pamphlet isn't enough."
Application and benefit payment systems should be streamlined, he stated.
"Compare applying for a workers' compensation claim or registering for coverage with ordering on Amazon or opening an online bank account," Bogyo said.
"In most cases the workers comp process is more cumbersome and time consuming, but does it really need to be?"
He said technology is available to make application and payment simpler.
"B.C. is doing pretty well with dial-a-claim options and more online services for employers, but more could be done to make transactions more seamless and timely," Bogyo said.
Programs for workers in precarious employment should also be established.
"Think about the most marginally employed or those with more than one part-time job," Bogyo said. "They are often ill-equipped to navigate the system."
For example, they might lack a bank account or a fixed address. They might have challenges of child or elder care that complicate claim processing or learning about their rights and obligations. Or they might not have a cellphone or Internet access.
"Do our general programs really meet their needs?" Bogyo said.
"I'm not certain they do. We may need more outreach or advocates to protect and assist them."
Administrative and policy barriers that result in denied claims should be identified.
"Our workers' compensation systems are based on rules." Bogyo said.
"If you know the rules and the right words to use, your claim has a greater chance of acceptance."
But, he said, if the claimant doesn't understand the rules or some of the terminology, there is a greater chance of drawn-out claim consideration and even denial.
Bogyo doesn't expect his suggestions to be implemented quickly.
"There are political and financial obstacles," he said.
"And there is historical resistance to change."