• By: OLM Staff

Know your rights under Workers Compensation

Peter worked for a large Ottawa development company for 10 years, doing a wide variety of jobs at a Laurier Street address — everything from painting and minor renovations to ceramic tile floor work and general maintenance. He was truly a jack-of-all-trades.

In the fall of 2000, Peter's life would change forever. He was carrying a piece of Gyprock for a wall replacement — it wasn't that heavy — something he had lifted dozens of times before. But this time, as he lifted, he felt a weird pinch in his back.

Feeling an intense burning sensation in his lower back, he put the Gyprock down and finished his day working on other projects. The next day, he woke up in incredible pain. He thought it was a back spasm — and went to work again.

Within days, Peter could hardly sit or stand in comfort. He took time off reporting to his supervisor that the pain started when he moved the board. The supervisor did not immediately report the injury to the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB), as required, which would cause Peter problems down the road. At the time, the supervisor advised Peter to take time off to see if he would get better.

The pain and discomfort only worsened and soon Peter would not be able to work at all. He visited the Ottawa Civic Hospital and saw a doctor, who advised him that it was a spinal disc injury requiring surgery. Within a couple of months, he underwent surgery, knowing full well there were no guarantees that the surgical procedure would make him able-bodied once again. His supervisor was hesitant to report the injury and at first, did not. Coincidentally, Peter also rented his apartment from the company employing him Soon, he was off on sick leave — and his paycheck was a mere pittance, compared to what he had been getting. A month after the operation, Peter received a notice of eviction. Yet this was not the worst of his problems.

The back surgery had not gone well and Peter was in the same amount of discomfort as before. When Peter's friends and family realized he was not receiving workers' compensation, they arranged to meet with the development company's management. After demanding the accident be reported immediately, Peter's workers' compensation kicked in, helping him to avoid being evicted by the very same company that employed him. His workers' compensation claim would prove to be his lifeline as he awaited a second back surgery operation to try and mend his affliction.

In the interim, Peter was prescribed pain medication, which WSIB also covered under his plan. Unfortunately, the constant pain caused Peter to become depressed; this led him to another round with an old enemy — alcohol.

By the time of the second operation, Peter had been off work for over a year and his sole means of support was WSIB. During that year, he would receive two more eviction notices — both of which were put off by angry calls from his friends and family members to the company. WSIB provisions allowed him to attend a six-week pain management program in Toronto in the winter of 2001. His former employer offered him no support programs. Swimming was one activity that seemed to ease the pain, but Peter couldn't afford the city pools. He decided to use the pool at one of his employer's properties. Back injuries are not always visible injuries. On the day he went swimming two of his former colleagues saw him and accused him of faking his injuries. Embarrassed and feeling belittled, Peter never returned to the swimming pool.

By May 2002, Peter's constant pain and sense that he would never get any better left him deeply depressed. He was behind in his bills and had received yet another eviction threat for being behind in his rent. He began to realize that he might never be able to work again.

Peter's family last saw him on May 13, 2002. Peter said he had applied for a job at Home Depot. He thought if he could just get out and be around people, it might help. The development company had offered him a desk job as a security guard, but he said that it involved sitting a lot or standing and no real contact with people.

On May 17, the Ottawa Police found Peter dead in his apartment in downtown Ottawa. It appeared that he had taken an overdose of his prescription medicine. He was 36 years old. Two weeks after the funeral, Peter's former employer sent a bill to his sister for just under $1000 to pay for the cleaning of his apartment. Apparently, the body had left an odour that was costly to eliminate. Peter's grief-stricken sister was devastated by this heartless and poorly-timed request. Another family member contacted the head of company about the bill. "Send us a letter and we will consider your request" was their response. The family member exploded into a righteous rage and refused to pay the bill. The insensitivity of the company toward Peter and his family throughout this ordeal shows why employees must understand their workplace rights.

Notice by employer of accident (from Workplace Safety and Insurance Act):

21. (1) An employer shall notify the Board within three days after learning of an accident to a worker employed by him, her or it if the accident necessitates health care or results in the worker not being able to earn full wages.

22. (1) A worker shall file a claim as soon as possible after the accident that gives rise to the claim, but in no case shall he or she file a claim more than six months after the accident or, in the case of an occupational disease, after the worker learns that he or she suffers from the disease.

Wages for day of accident

24. (1) The employer shall pay a worker who is entitled to benefits under the insurance plan his or her wages and employment benefits for the day of the injury as if the accident had not occurred.

(2) If the employer fails to comply with subsection (1), the Board shall pay the wages and employment benefits to or on behalf of the worker

If only Peter had known this, he might have had an easier time of it or at least given his employer as good as he got.