Employers’ liability outlined at seminar

Seminar explores 'dos and don'ts' of hiring workers in B.C.

Every employer has responsibilities for their workforce, and many of these were outlined in a seminar sponsored by the South Cariboo Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 20.

It was led by employers’ advisor (EA) Dave Hurren of Kamloops, whose office is an agency with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.

Hurren noted the Employers’ Advisors Office is completely independent of WorkSafeBC, and provides independent advice, assistance, representation and education to employers in British Columbia on worker’s compensation issues – where there is merit.

“Probably the biggest thing we do is working with employers when there are claims issues.”

He said EAs represent employers “where there is merit,” but not if there is “no real case” on an employer’s side of a claim issue.

One example he provided was a company Hurren was unable to represent after an employee had suffered severe and permanent injuries on the job.

“The only thing the employer could tell me as a defence as to why they shouldn’t have a penalty was that they corrected things after the accident happened.”

Hurren explained there was clearly non-compliance at the time of the incident, so he had “no tools” to present a case on employer’s behalf. In that case – and others without merit – EAs stand down, explain the situation and recommend the employer pursue their own legal council if they wish, he added.

“You can make your own arguments; you can still represent yourself … in any issue with WorkSafeBC.”

EAs assists employers with issues falling under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (OHSR) and/or the Workers Compensation Act, which have two levels of appeals, he said.

Every claim decision made by the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) becomes reviewable internally by the board, Hurren explained, and then an appeal can go forward to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT) for a decision.

He noted all employers in B.C. must register employees under one of 600 different assessment classifications, with the rate depending on where the WCB – the official agency of WorksafeBC – places that hired individual on the payroll.

Hurren cautioned the 10 local seminar attendees that independent contractors must also register with WorkSafeBC. Some may claim to hold private insurance, but he noted it doesn’t release the employer from legal responsibility for WCB insurance registration.

Even homeowners, mom-and-pop businesses and farmers hiring “casual labour” are held responsible when smaller jobs put them under a legal requirement for registering workers, Hurren said.

He added anyone hiring an individual to perform 24 person-hours or more to do a specific project or task must register with WCB as an employer, unless the contractor can provide a clearance letter proving their own, up-to-date account for WCB insurance.

Clearance letters can be easily downloaded (and tracked for validity) online at www.worksafebc.com, Hurren noted, by entering a valid registration number under the Insurance links.

Otherwise, any unregistered contractor who comes onto your property to do a renovation over more than 24 hours will leave you liable and responsible for work-related injuries, he explained.

“If there is the least little bit of OHSR issues involved with it, you, as an employer, have committed a retaliatory action, and WCB can very easily find you responsible for discriminatory action, in the act.”

Hurren said this includes cases where an employee brings up a health or safety issue, and their employer suggests they could leave work and go home if they don’t like it, so the employee does that, either voluntarily or after being terminated.

“You may find yourself responsible for wage loss until that individual finds a new job. It can get very expensive.”

The lunch seminar was followed by another session in which Hurren covered B.C.’s new anti-bullying legislation that took effect Nov. 1.

More information on both of these topics is available online at www.worksafebc.com.