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Ontario looking at job-protected leave, plans ‘super indexing’ of increases to WSIB payments for injured workers

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November 8, 2023
By Talent Canada

The Ontario legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto. Photo: Spiroview Inc./Adobe Stock

Ontario has announced some sweeping workplace changes with plans to increase WSIB benefits for injured workers; expand cancer coverage for firefighters; and add poisonings by chlorine, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide to the list of presumed occupational diseases.

It’s also planning consultations on job-protected leave to match the length of federal EI benefits, it said.

The proposed legislation that would support injured workers by “super indexing” increases to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits above the annual rate of inflation.

For an injured worker who earns $70,000 a year, a two per cent increase could mean an additional $900 annually on top of cost-of-living adjustments, which were 6.5 per cent in 2023, the province said in a press release.

“Our government has heard loud and clear that injured workers need more support, which is why we’re taking action,” said David Piccini, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development. “Whether it is an injured worker struggling to get by, a firefighter who served their community with distinction, or a young parent fighting a sudden diagnosis, we have your back.”

Cancer coverage for firefighters

Ontario is also improving cancer coverage for firefighters and fire investigators by lowering the duration of employment needed to receive presumed (or automatic) compensation prior to diagnosis with esophageal cancer from 25 to 15 years.

This means a firefighter with 24 years of service would no longer have to contest that their esophageal cancer was work-related, giving them faster access to WSIB benefits and other critical services, it said.

“Esophageal cancer is a highly fatal cancer that is rarely detected until the cancer is in its advanced stage, recent research has shown that the appropriate latency period should be 15 years,” said Greg Horton, president of the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association. “We thank Ontario’s elected leaders for recognizing that the legislation requires updating to ensure that firefighters, such as Welland Captain Craig Bowman, don’t slip through the cracks, and that they and their families receive fair treatment should they become ill, disabled or die because of their occupation and service to the public.”

Job-protected leave

To help workers dealing with a critical illness, the government will also be launching consultations on a new, job-protected leave to match the length of federal Employment Insurance sickness benefits, which is 26 weeks, it said.

A job-protected leave could ensure employees who receive a diagnosis of cancer or other diseases will have the peace of mind that their job will be waiting for them while they seek treatment, it said.

“Ontarians should be able to focus on their cancer treatment without worrying about what it means for their job or how their family will pay their bills,” said Hillary Buchan-Terrell, advocacy manager for the Canadian Cancer Society. “We look forward to engaging with the government during this consultation to ensure the perspectives and concerns of cancer patients in Ontario are heard.”

About five million workers and 325,000 employers are covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act. The current number of worker and survivor WSIB claims that are indexed to inflation each year is 134,000.

The proposed “super-indexing” amendments to the Workplace Safety Insurance Act, 1997 would, if passed and proclaimed into force, enable the Lieutenant Governor in Council to make regulations setting out additional indexation increases to WSIB benefit payments and the maximum earnings cap and set out the dates on which they are to be imposed, the province said.

Chlorine, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide poisoning

It also intends to bring forward a regulation under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 that would, if approved, add poisonings by chlorine, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide to the list of presumed occupational diseases, making it easier and faster for workers in certain occupations to obtain compensation from the WSIB.

Ontario recently announced the creation of an Occupational Illness Leadership Table, which will include some of the province’s foremost voices on occupational illness.

In June of this year, the government, by regulation, expanded presumptive occupational cancer coverage for firefighters and fire investigators to include thyroid and pancreatic cancer, making it faster and easier for them to get the compensation they deserve from the WSIB .

“If someone gets hurt or sick from their work, we want to help them safely recover so they can get back to what matters. These changes will mean better, easier and faster services and support for people who need the WSIB,” said Jeff Lang, president and CEO, WSIB.

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