In some of the Prairie provinces it is mandatory for farmer employers to sign up for Workers Compensation (WCB) for their workers. In Manitoba, it’s been mandatory since 2009.
Some farmers still haven’t signed up or don’t realize that they need to. “Way back when, before medicare and before WCB, if a worker was injured on the job and couldn’t get medical care — if they didn’t have money to pay for it — they would then turn around and sue employers. So a catastrophic workplace injury could leave a worker without medical care and, if the lawsuit was successful, the business would go broke,” says Warren Preece, director of communications for the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba.
Now, because of these kinds of provincial systems, “employers have immunity from lawsuits and workers have wage replacement and healthcare looked after.” These are Workers Compensation’s values as a system and it benefits both employer and employee for these reasons. The big thing now is getting the word out to farmer employers.
- Read more: How to enrol your farm workers in WCB
Even though coverage in Manitoba has been mandatory for several years now, many farmers aren’t signed up yet. “We’re still trying to make it known. I don’t think all the farmers in Manitoba understand that they need to register.” Workers in Manitoba are still covered if you haven’t signed up. If a worker is injured in Manitoba and you as a farmer employer aren’t registered, you won’t generally be fined, says Preece, but at that point the WCB will be coming to you and asking for premiums. “Usually we just go ahead with premiums owed in future,” says Preece, they do not usually ask for back payments. “It’s against the law not to be registered.”
Make the payments
If you are paying people to work on your farm, you need to be registered and make premium payments. “Any farmer who employs staff — not their direct family — and pays them a salary becomes an employer under the Manitoba Act. If you are employing staff, if you’re hiring someone to combine your fields and you’re paying them money, then you are an employer,” says Preece. Even before it was mandatory, says Preece, a lot of the big factory farms were already registered with Workers Compensation in Manitoba.
“Now it’s gone a lever deeper to farmers who aren’t factory farms but who are hiring people.” That’s a big pro for any employer, including a farmer. “Especially in agricultural settings, your worker is often your neighbour or your friend, so in that sense most farmers would like to know there is coverage if someone gets badly hurt.”
There are questions about what constitutes a family member because on a family farm covering family isn’t mandatory (but you can still opt in if you want the coverage). But, sometimes the definition of family can be hazy. “If you have a cousin who lives in the city and comes to the farm in the summer and you’re paying them, that’s staff,” says Preece. But if mom, dad, son, and daughter are living on the farm and working there, they’re family and coverage is voluntary.
Mandatory in Alberta
The case in Alberta is similar to Manitoba in that registering and paying your premiums for Workers Compensation is mandatory, though having to register and pay in is a relatively new thing for farming, effective only since January 1, 2016. So part of the reason you need to apply is that “there’s the legislative requirement to do so,” says Ben Dille, corporate communications for the Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta.
“But it is a good thing for people to do even if they are not necessarily required to do so,” like in the case of covering yourself or your immediate family. Some people will inquire with the Board, says Dille, about coverage, costs, etc., and compare that information with what a private insurer might offer. “That way they are making an informed decision about the type of coverage that they might want to get” for those types of workers, like family, who are optional to cover.
“The benefit for the employer is that they get full liability protection in the event of a workplace injury.” Your business will be safe — “the worker can’t turn around and sue your business.” In Alberta, you can be fined if you don’t “register your account in a timely manner,” says Dille, “though there’s discretion on our part when deciding whether to levy these. We focus more on education with new employers, as quite often they are just unsure of their responsibilities.”
Voluntary in Saskatchewan
Things are a bit different in Saskatchewan. It isn’t mandatory for those in the farming sector to obtain workers’ compensation coverage. But you can still enrol in voluntary coverage. It makes good sense to obtain this coverage, because, as in the other provinces, if you have it workers are covered in the event of a workplace injury and you, as the employer, are protected from being sued, says Sharon Acres, director of employer services for the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board, which can happen in Saskatchewan.
It makes good sense to enrol, even if you don’t have to, for your workers’ sakes and your own piece of mind.