An independent body created last year to hear a backlog of injured workers’ compensation appeals says it has overturned roughly 90 per cent of the more than 300 cases it has reviewed thus far.
Daniel Theriault says that’s mainly because WorkSafeNB doesn’t send anyone.
“I would say one of the main reasons is that when we have hearings, the worker is generally represented … by either a lawyer or an advocate,” said the chair of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal.
“Unfortunately, the commission attends very few of our decisions and even the employer rarely attends.”
Employers get ‘sticker shock’ as workers’ compensation premiums rise
Five of the tribunal’s decisions have overturned WorkSafe policies.
In those instances, the tribunal concluded that WorkSafe wasn’t conforming to the Workers’ Compensation Act. WorkSafe has said those five decisions are expected to add $87 million to its liabilities.
That’s having an impact on employer premiums. The average employer rate is rising 33 percent in January 2017, and WorkSafe predicts another hike for 2018.
Backlog reduced to 160
Theriault says it’s not the tribunal’s mandate to consider costs.
Rather, he says, it’s their job to make sure injured workers are getting the benefits they’re entitled to by law.
Theriault says a backlog of 470 cases has now been reduced to 160 cases.
“Instead of a 200- to 300-day waiting time, we’re reducing that,” he said.
Number of appeals down
He also credits WorkSafe for creating an internal issues-resolution office.
“That’s had the effect of starting to reduce the amount of appeals coming to us because roughly 70 to 75 per cent of those cases are being overturned by their own second look,” he said.
Theriault, a Fredericton-area lawyer and Queen’s counsel, was appointed chair of the tribunal in May 2015 for a five-year term.
In 2007, he was appointed to serve as the public intervenor at regulatory hearings before the Energy and Utilities Board.