Home Featured Crane operator loses bid for reinstatement following workplace injury in ‘very convoluted’ case out of Alberta

Crane operator loses bid for reinstatement following workplace injury in ‘very convoluted’ case out of Alberta

by HR Law Canada

A crane operator’s appeal for reinstatement following a shoulder injury has been denied by the Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation.

It upheld an earlier ruling of the Dispute Resolution and Decision Review Body (DRDRB). The worker, who had been laid off seasonally by his employer, sustained a non-dominant right shoulder strain in October 2019, with the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) initially accepting the claim in November of that year.

The case’s complexity arose from the recurrent appeals regarding the WCB’s decisions, which shifted multiple times between claim acceptance and denial.

“This file became very convoluted because the WCB did not maintain a consistent entitlement position which encouraged the parties to appeal decisions whenever they received an unfavorable outcome,” stated the Appeals Commission in its decision. “This in turn led the parties to become increasingly entrenched in their positions and strained an already strained relationship.”

According to the final ruling, the worker participated in a four-week return-to-work (RTW) program and was declared fit for full duties in March 2020. However, the employer appealed the WCB’s decision to accept the claim in May 2021, leading to further medical investigations.

The Independent Medical Examination (IME) surgeon found no new injuries and deemed the worker capable of resuming heavy work with no restrictions. Despite this, the worker’s employment was not reinstated for the 2021 season, leading to the appeal.

“The evidence, including medical evidence, does not support that the obligation to reinstate the worker in 2021 was triggered,” the commission noted.

The worker’s employment relationship was deemed severed at the end of the 2020 season, with no new assignments made for 2021 following his disclosure of ongoing discomfort and perceived risk of injury. It’s also important to note that the worker was employed seasonally and laid off at the end of each season. Whether or not he was reinstated at the beginning of the following season depended on available scheduled construction projects.

“It is unclear if the worker’s employment was terminated, the worker abandoned the job, or if there was a mutual parting of ways in April 2021,” it said in the ruling. “Regardless of how the ending is characterized the only factor relevant to our legislation and policy is timing.  We find that even if the employer terminated the relationship, the circumstances fail to satisfy the criteria necessary to trigger the presumption in section 88.1(6).”

In their deliberation, the Appeals Commission highlighted the worker’s own acknowledgment of not reporting ongoing issues during the 2020 season due to a perceived intimidating company culture, stating, “He found the reporting structure intimidating so was reluctant to report the injury further.”

The decision underscores the complexities of workplace injury claims and the challenges in the WCB’s handling of such cases, especially when medical opinions conflict and employment practices involve seasonal work with no guarantee of continuous employment. The Appeals Commission’s decision reiterates the importance of clear, consistent communication and documentation in managing workers’ compensation claims.

For more information, see Decision No.: 2024-0074, 2024 CanLII 40047 (AB WCAC).

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