What research can do: Following reports by IWH and others, B.C. strengthens protections against claim suppression

IWH study helped fill the research gap on claim suppression, helped advocates make the case for change and paved the way to legislation strengthening protection against the practice

Published: September 18, 2023

Informing the development of, or changes to, legislation is one of the ways research evidence can have an impact. And sometimes the path to having an impact on legislation involves the work of intermediaries—other individuals or organizations who use the research findings to help make a case for change. Both of these were the case recently when research by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) on the suppression of workers’ compensation claims informed changes to legislation in British Columbia.

In March 2018, Paul Petrie, a former vice-chair of the B.C. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal, submitted his commissioned report Restoring the Balance: A Worker-Centred Approach to Workers’ Compensation Policy to the Board of Directors of the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia (WorkSafeBC). Noting that the issue of claim suppression is fraught with allegations that are difficult to document, Petrie recommended that the Board consider initiating an independent review of this issue by a qualified organization with a scientific methodology.

Subsequently, WorkSafeBC commissioned a study in which IWH collaborated with Prism Economics and Analysis to estimate the nature and extent of claim suppression in B.C.’s workers’ compensation system. The report was completed in December 2020.

While the IWH study was underway, another report about B.C’s workers’ compensation system touched on the issue of claim suppression as part of a much broader review of issues related to the culture of the workers’ compensation board, case management and return-to-work practices. The 2019 report, New Directions: Report of the WCB Review 2019, by lawyer Janet Patterson, also a former vice-chair of the Tribunal, noted that the province’s Workers Compensation Act lacked a means to enforce the prohibition against claims suppression. She recommended that the Act be amended to address this gap.

IWH report provides estimates of claim suppression

The IWH study on claims suppression in B.C. involved surveys of workers and employers, as well as analyses of randomly selected workers’ compensation claim files. The report estimated a rate of claim suppression of work-related injury or disease in B.C. in the range of 3.7 to 13.0 per cent, with estimates towards the lower end being more likely. This range is consistent with findings from a study of claim suppression in Manitoba and studies of under-reporting in other Canadian jurisdictions.

In light of the IWH findings, Petrie prepared an addendum to his 2018 report, titled Claim Suppression: The Elephant in the Workplace. He wrote the IWH claim suppression study is excellent research that meets the well-established high standards of the Institute for Work and Health and builds on the sound methodology of the prior claim suppression studies by Prism Economics. Petrie’s March 2022 addendum also made a number of recommendations to strengthen protections against claim suppression.

In November 2022, B.C.’s Minister of Labour Harry Bains introduced Bill 41, which included a new, enforceable prohibition against claim suppression. The bill was passed on November 23, 2022, and the new provision against claim suppression came into effect the following day.

During debates on the bill in the B.C. legislature, Bains noted that prohibiting claims suppression will help to ensure that work-related injuries and diseases are funded out of the workers’ compensation system, as intended, rather than through the public health system, at a cost to the taxpayers. He also referred to the report by Patterson and, extensively, to Petrie’s addendum. He also quoted Petrie’s reference to the IWH claim suppression study and added: So here is a study that was conducted by WCB, and it came back suggesting there’s a significant number of underreported or not-reported claims… So when we are talking about claims suppression, as was studied by the independent body… [it] is a significant number that claimed that the injury should have been reported and wasn’t reported. I think that’s what we are talking about.

The Minister’s remarks in the legislature make it clear that the IWH study, the Petrie addendum that drew upon its findings and the Patterson report all informed the decision to develop Bill 41, which is now law. Petrie had flagged an evidence gap, the IWH study for WorkSafeBC helped to fill it, Petrie took up that evidence to provide new recommendations, and the B.C. government acted to amend the Workers Compensation Act to strengthen protections for injured workers.