For 20 or so years I’ve heard only one good story of someone’s WCB experience. Last week a friend told me his brother, injured on the job and now a paraplegic, had received a great deal of help from the WCB. I’m sure more good stories exist, but in general, the WCB has a lousy reputation.
Patrick Clayton’s recent trial for his hostage-taking of WCB workers has seemingly put its administrative operations into a softer, more vulnerable light. Unfortunately the trial failed to address the real issue that drove him to take such drastic action.
The WCB operates from the premise that injured workers try to screw the system by overstating their injuries, exaggerating their recovery time, and claiming financial support for things to which they are not entitled. The result of this adversarial approach can hardly be anything but abusive to honest people who are most vulnerable.
I have watched a close acquaintance of mine, injured in 2008, deteriorate from a strong, active, outdoor Alberta man, to one who can’t walk without a cane. What makes it most difficult, however, is the constant fear he lives with that stems from his dealings with the WCB.
He has learned that any disagreement with decisions or logic will be met with a threat that his money will get cut off. So the best way to proceed is to nod his head in agreement – even when he knows what they are doing may cause him further grief.
Alberta’s WCB has a stated goal to return injured workers to work. What they don’t say is that the opinion of WCB doctors supersedes the diagnosis of independent doctors and other specialists outside the WCB. So the WCB can say you’re ready to go back to work, when outside specialists say you are not. This is an inherent conflict of interest and so it makes sense when some workers, including my friend, claim the WCB pushed their rehabilitation so hard that they actually aggravated their injury.
My friend has told me that after being further injured as a result of his WCB driven rehabilitation, he learned that it is within his rights to acquire a copy of all documents about his case, but the WCB will not offer this information to him unless he fights for it. Yet how many people who live under the threat of having their financial support taken away will stand up to this? Perhaps if more lawyers got injured on the job then the WCB would treat their clients more fairly!
As part of my friend’s aggressive back-to-work program, he’s required to apply for 15-25 jobs weekly in a town of less than 25,000 people. It doesn’t matter that there are no jobs that fit his ability. His task is to pester businesses with multiple resumes. This black and white obsessive policy, he claims, was demonstrated when astonishingly, his job-developer demanded he give her his personal email address and password. As if this pushy breach of privacy wasn’t enough, she then proceeded to apply for a job on his behalf. She submitted his resume knowing it had incorrect information, using his email, signing his name, all without telling him. When confronted, she dismissed his concerns. Fearing being cut off financially, he dropped the matter.
So at what point do we take off our blinders and consider the possibility that the multiple complaints we hear from regular people we consider trustworthy are actually true? We cannot assume that just because a place is run by policy, that wrong things don’t happen.
The WCB system is fueled by an interlocking and flawed combination of three forces: money, control and secrecy. Although it presents itself as a system of rehabilitation, it is actually a self-serving, powerful, monopolistic organization that is seemingly untouchable, even by the Ombudsman who can speak to the matter but has no power to act. For vulnerable workers subject to its control, it is an unjust intimidator.
The time has long passed for the WCB to be dismantled and replaced by something that works and for victims’ stories to be validated. For the sake of the hard working honest members of our society, would someone please stand up to this bully.