Aug 072012


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Other occupations seek better access to WCB coverage for PTSD

By: Megan Sarrazin | Posted: Wednesday, Jun 06, 2012 06:00 am

A government bill aimed at making it easier for first responders to claim post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is facing criticism for failing to acknowledge other vulnerable workers.

The proposed Workers Compensation Amendment Act introduced last week by Dave Hancock, Minister of Employment and Immigration, makes PTSD a ‘presumptive’ illness for first responders including firefighters, police officers and paramedics.

“When you name particular [jobs], you automatically eliminate thousands of others,” said Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). “Restricting it to certain jobs is the wrong way to go about it.”

Although the amendments are a “good first step,” he said they fail to recognize that the illness is present in a variety of occupations dependent more so on the working conditions.

“Anybody potentially can experience a traumatic situation,” he said. “There’s environments all over the place where workers are exposed to traumatic events and situations.”

Current rules require employees to prove that their illness is a result of job-related duties before a claim is accepted by the Workers Compensation Board (WCB).

Shawn Friedenberger, communications advisor at WCB, said the process is the same as any other claim, requiring individuals to tell their employer, doctor and WCB.

“In the case of PTSD, the most challenging component is confirming the diagnosis as doctors follow a pretty precise diagnostic process,” he said via email. “Once the diagnosis has been confirmed … we make sure the trigger that caused the PTSD was work-related and pay any benefits needed.”

This process would remain in place for all occupations excluding first responders, who would not have to prove the trigger was work-related.

WCB records indicate that there were 22 approved claims of PTSD since the beginning of 2010 — only six of which were claimed by first responders.

The remaining cases were claimed by workers in a variety of fields, including transit operators, social workers and accommodation services managers.

Kevin Grabowsky, regional president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said he is concerned that correctional officers weren’t included in the amendment.

“If you look at everyone that they’re putting into this act – firefighters, EMTs, police officers, peace officers and sheriffs – well, we’re all of that in one job,” he said. “We’re the first responders to everything that happens inside those penitentiaries.”

Grabowsky spent 33 years working in correctional institutions and said there is no reason correctional officers should be excluded.

“We walk the meanest streets in Canada because everybody is a bad guy,” he said. “We play certainly a big part in public safety and we see a lot and deal with a lot of bad things.”

He said the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers is looking at the next step to advocate for correctional officers and have them included in the amendment.

Social workers are another vulnerable occupation that would like to be included in the Workers Compensation Amendment Act.

“[Social workers are] going into situations that are quite volatile and violence is possible, so I think it makes sense to put our profession on the bill,” said Lori Sigurdson, representative with the Alberta College of Social Workers (ACSW).

She said many social workers have a large caseload, which puts an increased demand on already scarce resources.

The government’s move towards zero-based budgeting threatens this demand further, she said, adding it will put further stress on social workers.

Sigurdson said the ACSW has discussed the amendment and is working with several other groups to obtain better access to PTSD coverage.

Smith said individuals who are not listed in the bill and are experiencing a similar situation to first responders could potentially make a claim that the legislation is discriminatory.

Debate on Bill 1 will continue when the legislative session is resumed in the fall.



Any one with half a brain could have predicted that this would happen. Only a moron would introduce a bill providing discriminatory presumptions to a specific group of workers which includes only first responders and excludes all other workers. This moronic legislation began when an MLA by the name of Richard Magnus introduced a private members bill giving presumptive status to firefighters for certain cancers, followed by presumptive status for firefighters specific to heart attacks while excluding all other workers who had much higher risks than firefighters for cancers and heart attacks. The problem with exclusion by designating a specific occupational group to receive special benefits while excluding all other occupational groups results in discrimination. To combat the insanity of exclusion, a private members bill has to provide presumption for all workers which was the original intent of the Meredith Principles and placing the entire burden of proof to the contrary on the “Board” who has the financial means of acquiring the knowledge specific to causation. Placing the burden of proof on a worker is a breach of the agreement between workers and employers that formed the basis of the Meredith Principles when they went from a civil system to an administrative system that was supposed to place the entire burden of proof onto the “Board” . Instead of having claims adjudicated under administrative law, claims are adjudicated under civil law where the worker becomes a plaintiff rather than a victim with the “Board” being the defendant and the employer being represented by the “Board” who pays bonuses to Case Managers to have claims denied based on the deliberate false medical opinions of the “Boards” network of dishonest medical advisors who the Alberta Government protect by legislation specifically Section 34(4) of the Alberta WCA where a doctor’s opinion even if they admit they lied, cannot be sued unless it can be proven that the medical opinion was based on malice rather than financial gain.

Introduction of Section 34(4) of the Alberta WCA does indicate that the Alberta Government is complicit in protecting WCB’s network of doctors who are not held accountable or responsible for providing knowingly false medical opinions for financial gain.


Gerry Miller

Jun 202012


” It cannot be said that the Board is independent insofar as the worker is concerned. It is a Board set up to protect the employers. The Board is funded by the employers, and the Board has a duty and probably a primary duty to protect the employer. In relation to the worker, the Board has an overwhelming wealth of knowledge and experience. It has the financial ability to fund sophisticated investigations involving highly qualified experts and have the material presented to them, guided, orchestrated and propounded by its in-house counsel responsible to the Board and paid for by the Board. The application of any standards under the rules of natural justice would identify such circumstances as being unequal in negotiating ability and unfair. This is not a level playing field, it is not fair, and it offends the basic principles of natural justice.”

– Justice Maclean – Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta


Jun 192012


Click on the following link: Re-thinking Workers’ Compensation-The Human Rights Perspective

Re-thinking Workers’ Compensation-The Human Rights Perspective, the June 2012 special open-access issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, is now available online. These articles emerged from background papers prepared for the national meeting, “Rethinking Workers’ Compensation: Developing Strategies to Protect Injured/Ill Workers’ Basic Human Rights” convened by NESRI in 2010. Authors include Emily Spieler, John Burton, Jeffrey Hilgert, Katherine Lippel, Rebecca Smith and Martha McCluskey.

In the journal commentary, guest editor Les Boden writes, “The articles in this special issue propose an alternate framework and analysis, a human rights approach that values the dignity and economic security of injured workers and their families.” Mainstream debates around workers’ compensation are very technical, market-driven and cost oriented. The focus is rarely on meeting the needs of injured/ ill workers. This discourse ignores the plight of the injured/ill workers and their grave suffering as they navigate workers’ compensation systems that often function poorly on multiple levels. A human rights framework mandates that those most directly and negatively impacted by a system, in this case injured/ill workers, be at the center of any discussion concerning system reform. Contributors to the AJIM special issue accordingly highlight the many failures of workers’ compensation and explore pro-worker strategies, solutions and alternatives that are grounded in the experiences of injured/ill workers and designed to advance their rights. For a brief overview of the journal articles, click here. To access the articles directly, click here.

Many of you who receive my e-mails may recognize the name of Dr. Emily Spieler who I have had the privilege of corresponding with and being supported by her during my 7 year fight with the American Medical Association and the Alberta WCB. With her assistance and the co-operation of Dr. Brigham (Editing Chair of the AMA Guides 6th Edition), the AMA Guides were changed to reflect my criticism of the previous “Guides” prior to the release of the AMA Guides 6th Edition which changed significantly from the 5th to the 6th Edition. Many of you also know that the Alberta WCB were forced to admit that they were wrong as to their understanding of how to assess impairment when using the AMA Guides and rather than assess an impairment rating using the AMA Guides as directed by Dr. Talmage (AMA Medical Consultant) reverted to the use of the Alberta Guides which were the old meat charts used by all workers compensation systems in Canada who have abandoned the use of those antiquated earlier guides put together by Dr. Bell in 1960 which are still being used by the Alberta WCB. The Alberta Guides do not recognize chronic pain in any of their impairment ratings whereas the AMA Guides do. Legally, based on the Martin decision, the Alberta WCB is not in compliance with the Supreme court’s decision to recognize chronic pain as being a compensable condition. The Alberta WCB recognizes chronic pain only if it results in an earning loss but does not assess an impairment rating for a discernible diagnosed medical condition. The Alberta WCB must provide an impairment rating for chronic pain just as the Nova Scotia WCB had to and noticeably also is that the BC workers compensation board amongst others provide an impairment rating for chronic pain. A chronic pain rating must also be assessed for conventional impairment ratings and must be added to or combined with other assessed impairment ratings. Not doing this is a human rights violation or a violation of Section 15.1 of the Charter.

Dr. Spieler and her colleagues continue to be a thorn in the sides of workers compensation systems and as well as the Government’s involvement in creating legislation that strips workers of their rights and loss of dignity after suffering a work related injury. The system was and is not meant to be adversarial and was the reason why the system went to an administrative system instead of having claims heard before the courts. As it stands now, the system as it stands now was better 100 years ago then what it is today because of legislation brought in by Governments over the years to protect the “Boards” at the detriment of workers.

I would suggest that you click on all the links within the article to read the full versions of the studies and comments of the authors of the studies.


Gerry Miller

Jun 172012

November 23, 2006
Faith Shattered State Of Denial Injured Workers Fight For Their Rights
By JEREMY LOOME — Edmonton Sun

Coffee with Betty Chong is like meeting everyone’s favourite grandparent. She’s a stereotypically sweet little old lady – although she might politely argue the old bit.

Though she’s petite and in her mid-sixties, Chong was, until about five years ago, a care attendant for people with disabilities, mostly seniors and kids with severe handicaps.

Then she hurt herself in a fall. Then she went to the Workers’ Compensation Board for help. Then a WCB rehab testing session broke her back. Then the board wrote a letter to her employer and got her fired. Five years later, she is forcibly retired, lonely, and utterly disgusted.

“They degraded me,” she says. “It was a very degrading process. Every way you look at it you’re just a number to them, you’re not important enough to be treated like a person.”

While working at a seniors centre in 2001, she was knocked over by a client, leaving her with a nasty bump on the head and a broken bone in her foot. Earlier that same year, her wrist was damaged in another care-related incident.

She went on temporary disability for less than a year as she rehabilitated and was happy. In fact, she had faith in the WCB because of its rapid and effective help for her husband when he’d broken a foot two years earlier.

By June 2002, the WCB sent Chong to its Millard Centre for a two-day examination of her ability to work. On the second day, she was instructed by a physiotherapist to lift a 45-pound weight to above shoulder height.

Suddenly, Chong felt pain shoot through her side. She told the therapist, who wrote the incident down. Before the second day of testing was completed, she was sent home.

After her husband took her for x-rays, Chong was shocked to find she had a compression fracture in her back and ribs. She called the WCB and told her case manager – only to have the physiotherapist deny there was an incident.

“I’m not a demanding person. I try to get along. I’m not looking for their money, I just want to prove that they’re wrong and that they lied. The woman who hurt me was so scared about losing her job that she didn’t care, she didn’t care about my back, she didn’t care that it was hurting. And she just didn’t write the report up on it.”

In fact, there was no reference to the incident in Chong’s WCB file. So her advocate, Theresa Roper, checked Chong’s other file, at the Millard Centre. Sure enough, there were handwritten notes indicating she’d complained of a “knife-like” pain and was unable to finish the second day of testing.

Roper was stunned when the case manager rejected her submission for coverage of a second accident. She demanded a medical consultant review the file. When the medical consultant found no evidence of a new injury, Roper checked with the doctor, only to discover the WCB had not sent him the Millard Centre file.

Not that it mattered. Even with that information, the WCB not only turned Chong down, it then sent a letter to her employer, Strathcona County, saying she was no longer fit to work in home support due to her age and medical history.

Chong was terminated by the county, and the WCB then decided she was able to return to work at a “medium level” of employment. “The WCB suggested I go to work as a cleaning lady at a motel at the very west end of the Yellowhead. So even though it was right across the city and work that my back pain would make difficult to do, I thought I’d go look at the place. And it’s a dive. And I’m wondering, ‘Who do they think I am, exactly, that I would take this?’ ”

By now, Roper was becoming incensed. They’d not only proven a WCB therapist severely injured her client, they’d also proven the same worker lied to cover up the incident, only to see Chong’s case manager side with the worker, then gotten her fired, then tried to force her back to work.

Roper went over the case manager’s head to a supervisor, who noted on Chong’s file that he felt the therapist was being fraudulent.

Finally, after two years, the WCB relented and paid retroactive disability and home maintenance benefits.

A year later, in 2004, the agency decided that, despite her chronic pain, Chong was fit to return to sedentary work. It took another year for Roper to get that decision overturned and Chong was awarded a lump sum for the back injury.

But she has never returned to work, and the pain in her back rules it out. The people Betty helped were her social circle, so she doesn’t get out much. Besides, she’s afraid that if she slips and falls, she’ll need help from the WCB.

– – –

Betty Chong’s story might sound horrifying. But it’s relevant for more than its shock factor: All of her problems came after the government promised to appoint a contentious claims tribunal, then reneged.

She wouldn’t have qualified for it, of course, because the tribunal – a result of two damning studies in 2000 of how the WCB treats injured workers – was supposed to address a “culture of denial” that led to unfair rejections of disability claims back to 1988. What Chong represents, however, is proof that injured workers still face such a culture, according to workers’ advocate Theresa Roper.

Roper gets paid a flat fee per case, and it’s low. Her income wouldn’t pay a part-time custodian’s salary. She isn’t in it “for the money.”

“Ultimately, if there’s a system set up to take care of people, it should actually happen,” says Roper. “And what it comes down to is that I have hundreds of claims I’ve handled where there is something seriously wrong with the behaviour and conduct of the board.”

Advocate Kevin Becker sees the same. “Case after case after case. They’re not even hard to find.”

It’s a lack of accuracy in case management that wouldn’t be acceptable to private insurers, says Rick Vermette, the former chairman of the WCB appeals commission.

When asked why he thinks the WCB has routinely over the last two decades had 50% or more of its decisions rejected on appeal – despite an appeal system Vermette and others argue is already biased against workers – he is perplexed.

“You know what? That’s a really good question that I don’t recall anyone ever asking before.”

Former WCB case managers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, blame a bureaucratic climate within the WCB. Case management is done in a repressive and fearful atmosphere, where it is made clear daily that the objective of the WCB is to save money, and staff bonuses are in part structured around how quickly files can be closed. Despite being named by one group as one of Alberta’s ‘Top 25 Employers’ of 2006 for offering a multitude of innovative benefits, staff paint a far different picture.

“Staff put up with this stuff because it’s their career, it’s their livelihood. It’s their mortgage,” said David, who spent years in the organization. “When I worked there, internally staff called it ‘The Workers’ Compensation Borg: You will assimilate.’

“As it became more and more of a statistical environment, it became more and more difficult to ‘creatively’ manage these individual cases. And under that intense internal pressure, a lot of people would just break down. The turnover rate there is unreal, and I would say there wasn’t a day go by when I couldn’t walk around and find someone crying at their desk.

“And now that it’s all about numbers, instead of people, it’s just about impossible for an advocate or a claimant to call a case manager without it automatically being adversarial.”

The average blue-collar guy would have no chance taking on the system, David said. “Justice shouldn’t be better for people who have more knowledge than someone else, or tougher on a simple journeyman than on a wealthy executive.

“But the truth is, they skim the surface and they weed out anyone they think they can beat pretty easily.”

– – –

Workers’ Compensation Boards were established nearly a century ago across Canada under the Meredith Principles, which are guidelines to reduce potential liability facing employers and to guarantee workers fair coverage.

The most fundamental is that of natural justice: it must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. But another former WCB staffer says between the internal jostling for advancement and heavy-handed management, justice doesn’t get much consideration.

“If you’re good at what you do or do what’s best for your client, then you’re seen as a troublemaker or a threat. You’re supposed to just shut up and do what you’re told,” says John, who also requested anonymity.

“The way it operates goes against the legislation, it goes against policies and it goes against the Meredith Principles. The most experienced case managers there were the ones who didn’t get promoted, because they weren’t willing to do anything to help the WCB’s position and to hurt clients. That’s why so few of the experienced case managers had cases going to the appeals commission.”

Often, says Roper, the case file is “closed” simply by sending the person back to work prematurely. She has three copies of one worker’s labour market description – a supposedly unchangeable list of a worker’s qualifications and abilities. It has been changed three times, including twice in one day, to reflect decisions that have gone against the worker.

“It’s just crazy. He simply can’t do a basic requirement of the work, and yet they’ve gone to great lengths to demonstrate he can.”

After one too many complaints, John was fired from his case manager job “without cause” and given a settlement. At the time, he was upset. “But now I look back and think it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Most people just quit eventually, because once you have any degree of experience, why would you stay in that environment?”

But many do because the WCB is a great place to work, said spokesman Jacqueline Varga. “Every year, WCB Alberta employees participate in an anonymous employee satisfaction survey, which measures employees’ overall satisfaction with their work environment and internal support services,” she said.

“In 2005, 93% of employees said the WCB was a good place to work. We don’t have this year’s numbers yet but are confident they will be equally as strong.”

The agency retained 90% of its staff last year, Varga said, “an impressive statistic given the opportunities that abound in Alberta’s workscape.”

During his many years working for the board, John says he never once heard management discuss the need to help injured workers or the importance of what they were doing.

“Never. Never once. All I heard from management is: ‘We need to cut costs, we need to cut claims.’ We never heard anything positive about what we did or why we were doing it.

“When I looked at the WCB, I always figured there was that 10% of people who wanted something they just didn’t deserve, something that they just hadn’t earned. But the other 90% really did need the help. And they just weren’t getting it.”

Jun 162012

EDMONTON – The “customer satisfaction” survey that is being used by the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) to defend itself from mounting public criticism is deeply flawed and misleading, says the president of Alberta’s largest union organization.

“Over the past few weeks, spokespeople from the WCB have repeatedly trotted out results from their annual client satisfaction survey. They’ve been using… the survey to back up claims that things are running smoothly at the Board and that most people are satisfied with the service they receive,” says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

“Unfortunately, the survey is deeply flawed. The Board only questioned people whose claims have been settled and whose files have been closed. People who are still waiting for a decision on their claims were excluded – as were people who are still receiving compensation payments or services such as rehabilitation therapy, vocational training, or employment counselling.”

As a result of the survey’s design, Cormack says the Board has failed to get an accurate picture of how its clients – injured workers and employers – really feel about the service they receive.

“The survey neglects to consider the views of the people who are most likely to be dissatisfied,” says Cormack. “Given this situation, it’s no wonder the WCB gets such high marks. That’s what happens when you only question the people who are least likely to complain.”

The WCB’s satisfaction survey is conducted every year and the results are published in the Board’s annual report. The 1998 survey showed satisfaction rates among the people surveyed were up slightly from 1997.

“I have no problem with surveys – they can be useful tools,” says Cormack. “But I’m concerned that be excluding so many people, the survey paints a false picture. I’m also concerned that the Board is hiding behind these numbers and using them as an excuse to not address the pressing concerns about service and accountability that are being raised by workers and employers around the province.”

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, AFL President:
483-3021 (wk)
499-6530 (cell)
428-9367 (hm)

See More

AFL raises concerns about WCB satisfaction survey | Press Release | Alberta Federation of Labour
Official website of Alberta Federation of Labour