The latest on health and safety in Alberta

Lawyer Teresa Haykowsky to speak at upcoming HRD Employment Law Masterclass

The latest on health and safety in Alberta

Alberta employers are facing a new challenge when it comes to work-related injuries, says an employment lawyer.

“The average claim duration over at WCB [Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta] has risen from 34 to 63 days over the past decade,” says Teresa Haykowsky, partner at McLennan Ross in Edmonton.

“More people are reporting workplace injuries and that has an implication on the workplace, generally speaking, from a statistics perspective.”

Haykowsky will be talking at the upcoming HRD Employment Law Masterclass Alberta to be held online on Oct. 19 and she provided a preview of some of her talking points.

The discussion will help employers learn about new OHS legislation and review recent WCB decisions on disability management, accidents and injuries. 

Privacy issues are always something to be considered in the employment context, according to another lawyer who will also be speaking at the HRD online event.

The wrong way to treat an injured worker

To illustrate some of the new issues employers have to be aware of, Haykowsky will be providing an overview of one interesting decision from the court of appeal.

“In that case, the worker had suffered a mild, traumatic brain injury and he had depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, post-concussion syndrome but he was also ‘difficult,’ and at the end of the day, there was a lack of clarity in the medical evidence,” says Haykowsky.

After it went through the appeal process, the court found that errors were made in determining treatment.

“The fact that he was difficult is not determinative of the core question, and that is whether the medical evidence supports a causal relationship between compensable injury under WCB, and any mild traumatic brain injury and brain injury symptoms; and so it looks like the wrong approach was taken by the commission: it was looking at this fellow who has been ‘difficult.’”

The newly created tort of harassment in Alberta will also be discussed during the session.

“That is new but I’ll talk about that background information because bullying and harassment policies are always important. Regular training on bullying and harassment, responding quickly to incidents, that’s important as well in the work context,” says Haykowsky.

Questions for HR to ask about WCB

For HR, “it’s critical to be apprised of the changes, to stay apprised of the policies and also to understand what the courts are guiding HR, in terms of HR practices that impact upon WCB,” she says.

An employer may be dealing with an injury involving a ‘difficult’ worker, and “the difficulties may be due or tied to the injury themselves but the fact that the worker might be ‘difficult’ should not serve as the factor to assess how to respond to or address the WCB issue,” says Haykowsky.

Employers instead should be asking key questions, she says.

“Really, what counts is what are the factors? What is the evidence? So more objective criteria applied by HR as opposed to a subjective criteria applied, particularly if they’re dealing with a worker, for example in this case, he did have a minor traumatic brain injury, and as a result was ‘difficult’ but those personality components should not drive any analysis or approach in a WCB file which can be challenging for HR if they’re dealing with an individual who may be experiencing their own challenges.”

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