November 15, 2017
Bill 145, WSIB Coverage for Workers in Residential Care Facilities and Group Homes Act, 2017 is a Private Member’s Bill created by Ottawa MPP John Fraser. This bill seeks to amend the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997, extending mandatory WSIB coverage to, among others, workers in group homes who support individuals with developmental disabilities. Should this bill be passed, employers in the Developmental Services Sector (“DS Sector”) who operate group homes would be required to register with WSIB. Of further concern, there is a risk that the vague undefined terms in the proposed legislation could be interpreted to apply to families that support multiple people in innovative housing models. In both cases, unfunded cost increases associated with WSIB could have a serious impact on supports available to individuals with developmental disabilities.
While DS Sector employers are generally not required to register for WSIB, historically many DS Sector employers have chosen to voluntarily register for WSIB and now have “by-application” status. There are also many employers, however, who either have chosen not to voluntarily register, or, have paid hefty departure premiums in order to revoke their by-application status. The choice to avoid WSIB is typically based on the excessive costs, which for some employers would be twelve times more expensive than their existing private insurance coverage, and the perceived unfairness and inefficiency of the WSIB system.
Increased Costs, Reduced Service
For those DS Sector employers that are currently not covered by WSIB, mandatory registration and associated premiums poses significant financial and service related concerns. DS sector employers are Government funded and after years of funding shortfalls there are virtually no efficiencies left to be had and no customers on to whom increased costs can be passed. Therefore, absent additional funding to cover the increased costs associated with mandatory WSIB, affected employers will not be able to sustain their existing supports, with potentially devastating consequences for the people they serve.
Injustice of Departure Premiums
Faced with increasing costs of WSIB and frustrated by its inefficiencies, many employers who were previously covered “by-application” have in recent years chosen to depart WSIB and purchase private alternative insurance. As a condition of doing so WSIB imposes steep departure premiums, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. To suddenly and arbitrarily impose mandatory coverage on these employers without providing for or otherwise addressing departure premiums that have been paid over the last two decades would be unjust and a gross abuse of power.
WSIB in Addition to Bargained Benefits
Employees in the DS sector are often unionized, and therefore have the protections and bargaining power associated with membership in a union. In many cases, DS Sector employees, through their unions, have negotiated significant benefits in return for departing from, or not registering at all for, WSIB. These arrangements have been negotiated in good faith and represent what both parties agree to be fair, reasonable and appropriate based on the incidence and risk of injury I their particular workplace. The costly benefits negotiated in return for departing or not registering at all for WSIB include short-term disability, long-term disability and other very costly benefits that would not or could not otherwise have been afforded by employers in this sector if they were participating in WSIB. Mandating WSIB coverage in this sector, would provide a windfall to these employees, at a significant unfunded and unbudgeted cost to their employers, and would undo all of the efforts made by both sides in the collective bargaining process to come to a mutually agreeable solution on the issue of insurance coverage for workplace injuries that meets the particular needs of each workplace.
Impact on Families – Innovative Housing Models
Finally, many families of individuals with disabilities have come up with innovative housing models for their family members. Some of these housing solutions are funded by the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and could be considered “group homes” such that they may be subject to Bill 145. These housing models typically only receive a minimum amount of funding for their operations, and are not adequately funded to cover WSIB. Absent additional funding, the costs of mandatory WSIB premiums may affect the sustainability of support arrangements with significant negative implications for the people supported.
Bill 145 has passed its second reading, is currently before the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills and is being considered separately from Bill 148. In order for it to be passed by the Legislative Assembly, it must pass a third reading, which has not yet been scheduled.
Bill 145 is a Private Members Bill, and these frequently do not end up being passed into law. It is important, however, to ensure it does not fly under the radar and wind up being passed without due consideration of DS Sector funding constraints, departure premiums already paid, the burgeoning costs already facing employers due to Bill 148, the application of Bill 145 to families and the support needs of people with developmental disabilities. We recommend that all interested and affected parties contact the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills at firstname.lastname@example.org to ensure DS Sector interests are recognised. Note that this committee is separate and distinct from the committee considering Bill148.
We also welcome you to contact Cheryl Wiles Pooran for more information about the implications of Bill 145 on your organization and the people you support.