(Update: The 2020 WSIB Operational Review report has made further recommendations (#13, 14) on streamlining the appeals system.)
The 2012 WSIB Appeals Modernization consultation which followed a 2008 KPMG Value for Money Audit claimed to introduce greater efficiency and reduce the Appeals backlog and waiting time – addressing a crisis of the Board’s own making. Curiously, the concerns outlined in the “Consultation paper’s” case for change had little connection with the solutions proposed, raising questions as to whether the changes were designed to reduce use of the Appeals system.
More barriers for the vulnerable
The new “Appeals Services Division practices and procedures” , rather than simplify and streamline, increased bureaucracy, paperwork and delay – putting at a further disadvantage injured workers with limited literacy or English language skills, workers already on the poverty line or with mental health conditions. The threat of “downside risk” (possible reconsideration by the Board of earlier uncontested decisions) is an intimidating tactic that discourages injured workers from pursuing their rights.
New measures that injured workers and their advocates oppose:
- Downside risk – if you appeal a decision, the Board may take away benefits you received in other decisions. In making an appeal, the Appeals Officer may review other decisions in the file that granted entitlement and potentially reverse them. This is a biased reading of the Act (s.121). Before there was no such risk – the Appeals Officer would only consider the decision under appeal
- Notification process – before you had to send the WSIB notice in writing within 6 months if you disagreed with a decision (a simple letter would do). Now you must fill in a 2-page form with 2 pages of instruction
- Objection form – instead of 2 pages with instructions on the form, the new system is a 2-page form with additional 2 pages of instruction
- Oral in-person hearings – the new system severely limits face-to-face oral hearings that are important for proper consideration of a case
The Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Government Agencies listened to objections by legal clinics, injured worker groups and labour unions. In their “Report” on the WSIB” (Nov. 6, 2013) the Committee told the Board reconsider its appeal changes, especially those affecting oral hearings, and more information on Appeal Branch outcomes and Tribunal backlogs and needed resources.