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Saskatchewan updates Workers’ Compensation Act

On Jan. 1, 2014, Saskatchewan’s Workers’ Compensation Act, 2014, came into effect, replacing the legislation that had been in place since 1979. As a result, the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) is updating its policies, procedures, publications and website to clarify what the changes mean for both employers and employees.

While many of the duties under the act remain the same, some of the highlights of the new legislation include a change in the maximum assessable wage rate for workers and additional duties for employers. The WCB is also taking this opportunity to remind parties of potential penalties that exist for non-compliance with the legislation. 

Assessable earnings

The maximum assessable wage as set out by the legislation is the maximum wage that employers are required to report for each worker, and for which they are required to remit premiums. That same wage is also the maximum payable to a worker in case of a workplace injury, regardless of whether her actual earnings exceed the amount set out by the legislation and the WCB. In 2013, the maximum assessable wage rate was $55,000. With the new legislation, that maximum wage rate increased to $59,000 as of Jan. 1, 2014. Therefore, employers are required to report their 2014 payroll using $59,000 per employee.

The new legislation allows the maximum wage rate to increase incrementally from 2015 to 2019, when it will reach 165 per cent of the provincial average weekly wage. Then, from 2020 onward, the maximum assessable wage will be indexed so it remains at 165 per cent.

The indexing requirement will help ensure that premiums and wage loss benefits remain in line with average earnings in the province.

Employer duties

The new act contains all of the employer duties that existed under the previous legislation. Employers are still required to:

• register their business with the WCB if they are in an industry that has mandatory coverage and register within 30 calendar days of employing workers

• prepare an annual employer payroll statement that accurately sets out payroll and submit it to the WCB by Feb. 28 of the year

• report an injury within five days of becoming aware of it.

The legislation also sets out that employers must not, directly or indirectly, prevent an injured worker or his dependants from reporting an injury or receiving compensation. As well, employers are precluded, by law, from deducting WCB premiums from a worker’s wages.

While the legislation does not change that workers are entitled to compensation for work-related injuries, it does add some new duties for employers, in addition to the duties that previously existed.

The new act requires employers to:

• co-operate to help an injured worker return to work

• report to the WCB when an employee returns to work

• report any change in an employee’s status that could impact his entitlement to benefits.

The changes in duties with respect to return to work are consistent with the provisions that exist in other workers’ compensation legislation across Canada. Where return-to-work was once the responsibility of the compensation boards, there has been a steady push by the boards to a self-reliance model.

This model requires employers and workers to work together to assist injured employees in returning to either their pre-injury employment or other suitable work. The boards tend to take more of a facilitator role in the process, where they once controlled it.

Fines and penalties

The ability to levy a penalty on employers existed under the previous legislation and is considered to be a last resort to deterring non-compliance with duties set out in the act. The WCB has stated penalties will continue to be applied in all cases for failing to register with the board, or failing to file the payroll statement.

There are three different types of penalties that exist under Saskatchewan’s WCB legislation. These penalties range from a $1,000 fine on summary conviction, to discretionary penalties, which are generally a percentage of the cost of an injury claim or a percentage of an employer’s assessment. In addition, the WCB may levy an administrative penalty on an employer to a maximum of $10,000. Administrative penalties are seen as an escalation of a discretionary penalty and may be imposed as well as a fine on summary conviction or a discretionary penalty when an employer continues to intentionally contravene the act.

The WCB will look at several factors before imposing a penalty or fine on an employer, including examining the employer’s intention to contravene the act, the severity of the infraction, the effect of the infraction on a third party (including an injured worker), a pattern or history of offences, the need to establish a deterrence, and the need to prevent continued non-compliance. Generally, the WCB will ensure an employer is aware of its duties under the act before levying any penalty for non-compliance.

An employer may dispute the imposition of any penalty or the quantum of the penalty by sending an explanation letter to the WCB within 30 days of the decision. Further, a penalty may be appealed to the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench. Again, there is a 30-day time limit to commence such an appeal.

The WCB will work with employers and workers to ensure they understand the changes in the law, and to ensure that all parties understand their duties.

Employers handling claims with the Saskatchewan WCB should monitor the WCB website (

www.wcbsask.com

) for updated information, and become familiar with updated policies as they are released.

David Marchione is an occupational health and safety and workers’ compensation specialist with Compclaim, a consulting practice of Mathews, Dinsdale & Clark in Toronto. He can be contacted at dmarchione@compclaim.com.

David Marchione

David Marchione is an occupational health and safety consultant and paralegal at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin in Toronto. He can be reached at (416) 868-3468 or dmarchione@fasken.com, or visit www.ehslaw.ca for more information.
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