What happens to Ontario’s injured workers with permanent impairments who are denied workers’ compensation or their benefits are cut off when they are unable to get employment after their injury? A recently published report “Where Did They Go?” is the first step of a proposed research project to investigate what happens to these injured workers. Workers’ compensation is the one part of our social safety net that can actually lift someone out of poverty but many injured workers end up in poverty and rely on social assistance.
The project was initiated and provided research assistance by Injured Workers’ Consultants, the Sudbury Community Legal Clinic, the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups, the Income Security Advocacy Centre and the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy. Their first-hand observations of the decrease in workers’ compensation benefits resulting from changes in WSIB policies and practices, with related growing injured worker poverty, rising numbers of injured workers who rely on social assistance programs and rising Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) expenditure, raised several concerns, including:
- A disregard for one of the fundamental (Meredith) principles of the workers’ compensation system – the right to fair compensation as long as the disability lasts
- Cost-shifting for payment of injured worker benefits from the employer funded WSIB to the public purse, with increased funding pressure on ODSP
- Income support inadequacy of ODSP to meet basic needs (note – recent recommendations presented in the government’s “Roadmap for Change” are currently under review – see ISAC response)
In this initial phase, the report, prepared by University of Waterloo Community Masters in Public Health graduates Amanda Richards with Sara Penny, includes a background literature survey; historical timeline of WSIB policy changes from 2000 on; and interviews of injured workers on their lived experience. Importantly, it also suggests methodologies for examining the larger research project – that is, of gaining a better understanding of what happens to permanently injured workers and how they end up relying on ODSP as their primary source of income, the costs to themselves and the social assistance system. The report identifies gaps in current data, and makes recommendations on effective methods of tracking the trajectory of these workers from workers’ compensation coverage to welfare.
The report was presented in November at the Injured Workers and Social Assistance Conference organized by Rebecca Gewurtz (Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy; McMaster University, School of Rehabilitation Science). Avenues for continuing this valuable research are currently being explored.
- Gewurtz, Rebecca, Stephanie Premji & Linn Holness. 2016. Injured Workers Who Experience Challenges Returning to Work: Pathways and Consequences. Toronto: Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy
U.S. reports have also highlighted the impacts of downloading compensation costs onto social assistance :
- Buffie, Nick & Dean Baker. 2015 Oct. Rising Disability Payments: Are Cuts to Workers’ Compensation Part of the Story? Washington D.C.: Center for Economic and Policy Research
- Grabell, Michael & Howard Berkes. 2015 Mar. The Demolition of Workers’ Comp. New York: ProPublica; NPR