The new provincial government plans to allow third-party coverage but for now, the old rules remain in place
For now at least, farm employers still have to have insurance from the Workers Compensation Board of Alberta.
But there are benefits that come from WCB coverage, an official with the company told attendees at a recent Alberta Beef Producers meeting.
That includes no-fault insurance, said Boris Makale, an insurance specialist with WCB, which is a not-for-profit mutual insurance company created by the province.
“It doesn’t matter that the worker chose to not wear fall arrest when they got on top of the silo and broke their leg,” said Makale. “It doesn’t matter if you as the employer told your worker to get up there without fall arrest. We are 100 per cent no-fault.”
The former NDP government brought in mandatory WCB coverage (for farms with paid, non-family employees) three years ago as part of its workplace safety legislation for farms. The new UCP government has promised to repeal that legislation and has said its replacement bill will allow farmers the option for third-party workplace injury coverage. Small farms of three or fewer paid employees would also be exempt under the new legislation.
But the UCP will first consult with farmers, so any replacement legislation is still some months away.
In the meantime, WCB coverage remains mandatory. A lot more farms are now covered — 4,400 versus 1,700 previously — but not all farm employers fully understand the coverage they’re receiving, said Makale.
“We cover all medical costs, which is something that not a lot of people understand,” he said at the ABP meeting. “If a worker is shovelling silage at work, and they hurt their shoulder, the physician will fill out a report and give an invoice to the WCB and WCB will pay that medical.”
That can include physiotherapy, chiropractic therapy, emergency room costs, surgery costs and anything related to medical care.
“Last year we spent $395 million on medical care in the province of Alberta,” said Makale. “There is no statute of limitations on time or cost. We’ll cover what needs to be covered for the worker.”
No-fault insurance means employers can’t be sued by an injured worker.
“Being covered under the Workers Compensation Act precludes everyone from civil litigation. That’s a big plus.”
Other insurance companies don’t offer that because they don’t operate under provincial legislation, he said.
The WCB also covers wage losses up to 90 per cent if a worker is unable to work due to injury. “We may, depending on the severity, retrain the worker for another occupation,” he said. “Vocational retraining is a big component of our expenditure every year.”
Vocational retraining and long-term pension for permanently disabled workers account for almost a third of premium costs in Alberta right now (to the tune of $294 million annually).
Business owners can also purchase personal coverage for themselves, which shields them from litigation and also allows the owner to have expedited medical services.
“Medical benefits are the same for employer and worker,” said Makale. “The difference is that as proprietor or director, you can start or stop your coverage when you want. It’s optional.”
Optional coverage is also available for family members and anyone who occasionally assists on the operation but receives no wage.
The same rules apply when the business is a family corporation or partnership. However, an incorporated business owned by two people who are not related must have coverage for workers, whether they are family members or not.
Basic rates, which have been frozen since Jan. 1, 2016, vary according to the type of business (based on claim experience for that sector). For beef producers and feedlots, the rate is $2.97 per $100 of payroll, while grain and crop producers pay $2.25.
Larger businesses (those paying more than $15,000 in WCB premiums over a three-year period) may pay more if they’ve had numerous claims. But the vast majority of farming operations fall into the small employer category, said Makale.
“When you are a small employer, we don’t look at the cost of your claims when we calculate your premium rates, we look at the number of time loss claims you have incurred over a span of five years,” he said.
Businesses with five or fewer claims in a five-year period get a discount. Businesses with five or more get a surcharge.
“We don’t look at the number of claims you incur, we look at the cost of those claims,”said Makale. “That’s where managing claims becomes paramount. When you are a large employer, we compare you to your average industry costs pro-rated to the same payroll.”
A lower cost of claims results in a lower premium, and higher claim costs result in higher premiums. But claims that don’t result in time lost or have medical costs below $1,500 do not impact an employer’s premium.
An employer is responsible for getting their worker to a doctor if he or she gets hurt. The employer must arrange medical treatment and provide immediate and appropriate care. They need to keep a record and document what happens.
“As soon as someone is going to submit a report for services rendered, that’s a report to the WCB,” he said. “You’re also responsible to pay your worker the day the accident occurred.”
Employers need to contact WCB (either online or by mail or email) if an employee is injured.
“Within 72 hours of having acquired knowledge of the injury, you’re required to submit a report to us,” he said.
Under provincial rules, an employer must provide modified work if the employee is unable to return to his or her old duties. The work must be suitable and accommodate the worker’s injuries.
The vast majority of injuries are sprains and strains, said Makale.