This article sheds light on the WSIB’s intense pressure to get workers back to work, often sooner than they are ready. This is described as a “win-win” scenario, when the WSIB saves money by not compensating the worker because he or she is successfully back at work. But the “winner” is often only the WSIB. The worker’s file is closed, but the worker may not be ready or sufficiently healed. A re-injury may occur of the worker may work in pain and face pressure from the employer and co-workers to produce like before. The WSIB likes to say that it is better at work. Workers say that pushed back to work does not work. What works is time to heal and supportive return to work. The WSIB should be a safety net for injured workers, shake off counterproductive cost-cutting and return to a vision where workers’ health and security come first.
“WSIB policy pushes workers into “humiliating” jobs and unemployment, critics say” / Sara Mojtehedzadeh (Toronto Star, Sep 12, 2016)
Ontario’s worker compensation board says its early return-to-work program is an “evidence-based” approach to help accident victims recover. Critics say rather that it’s all about cutting costs, “that vulnerable workers are often forced back to work too soon, sometimes against their doctor’s orders, into ‘modified’ jobs that can be demeaning and potentially harmful.” As Injured Workers Consultants’ Aidan Macdonald points out, it is counter-productive for both the worker and their employer if an injured worker cannot keep up with their jobs because they’re in pain. The experience of injured worker Jeannie Howe is unfortunately not uncommon – those given light duties or job accommodations during recovery can also face additional stress from co-worker hostility and suspicion.
Harry Arthurs, in his independent 2012 Funding Review for the WSIB, warned that the current system (because of experience rating) created “pressure for workers to return to work prematurely or to ‘non-jobs’ where they perform meaningless functions until it is advantageous for the employer to dismiss them.” University of Ottawa professor Katherine Lippel, notes there is little therapeutic in demeaning, pointless tasks and that the policies lack nuance – what might be appropriate in preventing chronic disability from a back injury does not work for the worker with post-traumatic stress… University of Waterloo’s Ellen MacEachen, author of several studies on the Board’s early return to work policy, shares her skepticism.
A need for follow-up
A 2015 study on injured workers with permanent impairments in Ontario, led by Trent University’s Peri Ballantyne, found in their diverse sample 46% lived in poverty after their workplace injury. The Board, however, says it does not systematically track what happens to injured workers following their return to work.