Decision #94/21 - Type: Workers Compensation
The worker is appealing the decision made by the Workers Compensation Board ("WCB") that he is not entitled to coverage for the purchase of a computer/laptop. A file review was held on May 27, 2021 to consider the worker's appeal.
Whether or not the worker is entitled to coverage for the purchase of a computer/laptop.
That the worker is not entitled to coverage for the purchase of a computer/laptop.
This claim has been the subject of a previous appeal. Please see Appeal Commission Decision No. 14/21, dated January 27, 2021. The background will therefore not be repeated in its entirety.
The worker has an accepted claim for a right shoulder injury that occurred on October 24, 2017. The worker underwent surgery on October 1, 2018, followed by a course of rehabilitation. Permanent restrictions relating to the worker's right shoulder were identified in June 2019, which the accident employer was unable to accommodate, and the worker was referred for vocational rehabilitation ("VR").
On August 19, 2019, a WCB VR consultant contacted the worker to conduct an initial assessment, where the worker's previous education and employment were discussed. The worker indicated that he had a limited working knowledge of computers and felt having a computer and computer training would help build his skills. The VR consultant explained that a computer would primarily be covered if it was included as part of a curriculum and that it might be considered if it was required to be successful in a particular course. On August 20, 2019, in response to a further inquiry from the worker with respect to computers, the WCB's VR consultant clarified that she could not recommend funding for a computer without the rationale of an associated course/development.
In a further conversation with the worker on October 4, 2019, the VR consultant again discussed the worker's request for a computer and explained that the WCB's policy did not allow them to provide computers without a strong need for same and only where the worker was unable to access other options. The consultant noted that a computer might be provided if the WCB was supporting a long-term program or a worker needed specific programs and a computer to run those programs.
A VR plan was developed for the worker for National Occupational Code (NOC) 6541 – Security Guard, which included a schedule of VR sponsored activity and benefits and services to be provided by the WCB.
After an October 21, 2020 discussion with the worker, the WCB provided the worker with a letter dated October 23, 2020 confirming he was not entitled to funding for a computer or laptop as it was not considered necessary for involvement in the VR plan, especially given his required coursework had been completed. On December 19, 2020, the worker requested that Review Office reconsider Compensation Services' decision, noting he had taken computer courses through his VR program and required a laptop or computer to continue practising those skills. He also noted that some training for future employment was done online and he would require a laptop or computer for that training.
On January 8, 2021, Review Office determined that there would be no coverage for a computer/laptop. Review Office noted the VR plan for the worker for NOC 6541 – Security Guard, included basic computer skills/upgrading, followed by security guard training, job search preparation courses and a period of job search. Review Office found that while having his own computer would be beneficial to the worker, it was not required for the worker to complete his VR plan.
On January 25, 2021, the worker appealed the Review Office decision to the Appeal Commission and a file review was arranged.
Applicable Legislation and Policy
The Appeal Commission and its panels are bound by The Workers Compensation Act (the "Act"), regulations and policies of the WCB's Board of Directors.
Subsection 4(1) of the Act provides that where a worker suffers personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment, compensation shall be paid to the worker.
Pursuant to subsection 27(20) of the Act, the WCB may provide academic, vocational and rehabilitative assistance to injured workers. Subsection 27(20) reads as follows:
Academic, vocational, rehabilitative assistance
27(20) The board may make such expenditures from the accident fund as it considers necessary or advisable to provide academic or vocational training, or rehabilitative or other assistance to a worker for such period of time as the board determines where, as a result of an accident, the worker
(a) could, in the opinion of the board, experience a long-term loss of earning capacity;
(b) requires assistance to reduce or remove the effect of a handicap resulting from the injury; or
(c) requires assistance in the activities of daily living.
WCB Board Policy 43.00, Vocational Rehabilitation (the "VR Policy"), explains the goals and describes the terms and conditions of academic, vocational, and rehabilitative assistance available to a worker under subsection 27(20) of the Act. The VR Policy states that: "The goal of vocational rehabilitation is to help the worker to achieve a return to sustainable employment in an occupation which reasonably takes into consideration the worker's post-injury physical capacity, skills, aptitudes and, where possible, interests."
The VR Policy goes on to state: "The WCB will help the worker as much as possible to be as employable as she or he was before the injury or illness. Once this is done and when necessary, the WCB will provide reasonable assistance to the worker so that she or he actually returns to work. However, services may not always continue until the worker actually returns to work."
Under the hearing "Allowances," the VR Policy further provides, in part, that:
In some circumstances, injured workers will be eligible for reasonable allowances to cover additional costs required because of a vocational rehabilitation program or the compensable rehabilitative needs of the injured worker…Available allowances include:
a. Tools and Equipment – The cost of special equipment, tools, or clothing where this is required to support a return to work will be paid by the WCB…
b. Tuition, Books, Supplies, etc. – When a particular vocational rehabilitation plan involves academic or vocational training, the cost of tuition and required books or supplies will be paid by the WCB….
The worker's position was set out in his Appeal of Claims Decision form dated January 24, 2021.
The worker submitted that he needed to be provided with the necessary tools to move on with his life.
The worker submitted that he had completed 21 computer courses in school, but without a computer, he could not practise what he had learned at home.
The worker further submitted that he had upcoming online courses for future employment with a potential employer, but did not have a computer at home to take those courses.
In addition, the worker submitted that emailing is a "must" these days, and he was having to use his phone for emailing at this point.
The employer did not participate in the appeal.
The issue before the panel is whether or not the worker is entitled to coverage for the purchase of a computer/laptop. For the worker's appeal to be successful, the panel must find, on a balance of probabilities, that a computer or laptop is required to support a return to work in sustainable employment or for vocational training for the worker. The panel is unable to make that finding, for the reasons that follow.
The VR plan of NOC 6541 – Security Guard as developed for the worker outlined a schedule of VR sponsored activity, including basic computer skills training and upgrading; security guard training; job search training; job search preparation courses; and a job search period.
Information on file shows that the worker had completed the basic computer training which was contemplated under the VR plan and supported by the WCB by October or November 2020. The panel is satisfied that the worker has acquired the basic computer skills required for the identified NOC 6541 – Security Guard and knows how to use the basic programs.
The worker has argued that having completed those courses, he requires or is entitled to a computer or laptop to practise what he has learned at home. The panel is unable to accept that argument. The panel acknowledges that it might be useful for the worker to have his own computer or laptop, but is unable to find that this is required to support a return to work or for vocational training as contemplated under the Allowances section of the Policy.
The panel is further unable to find, based on the evidence, that the worker requires or is entitled to be provided with a computer or laptop to complete the other activities in the VR plan or support a return to work. While the worker referred in his appeal to upcoming online courses for future employment with a potential employer, the panel is unable to find, based on the evidence, that the purchase of a computer or laptop is required or reasonably required for those purposes.
The worker has further argued that a computer is necessary for emailing, noting that he has to use his phone for emailing. The panel notes that at his initial VR assessment, the worker had indicated that he used his phone for internet searches and emailing purposes. The panel finds it was neither necessary nor reasonable for the WCB to be asked to cover the cost of a computer or laptop for the worker for the purpose of communicating by email in the circumstances.
Based on the foregoing, the panel finds, on a balance of probabilities, that a computer or laptop is not required to support a return to work or for vocational training for the worker. The worker is therefore not entitled to coverage for the purchase of a computer/laptop.
The worker's appeal is dismissed.
M. L. Harrison, Presiding Officer
J. MacKay, Commissioner
M. Kernaghan, Commissioner
Recording Secretary, J. Lee
- Presiding Officer
(on behalf of the panel)
Signed at Winnipeg this 26th day of July, 2021