Any type of injury that happens at work is stressful. There are a series of consequences, following the injury that impact the injured person and their family. When a worker is injured at work, it is known as a work-related injury and employers are required to report the injury to the WCB (Workers Compensation Board).
For injured workers, the support received by the employer and the benefits from WCB is intended to help workers with a faster and better recovery. These WCB benefits help workers to get medical treatment, pharma care, relevant and related rehabilitation programs and financial assistance while off work. If the injury is permanent, the WCB may also provide a permanent impairment award, which is a lump sum of money. It is an important resource for recovery and helps workers return to work sooner. To access WCB benefits, it is important to report your injury to WCB in a timely way and get a medical diagnosis and a treatment plan.
There are several challenges and barriers for injured workers to recover, return to the workforce, and live independently after being injured. Often, when newcomer workers are injured, the additional challenges and barriers they face are enormous.
Disability related to the injury is one of the major challenges faced by injured workers regardless of their age or ethnicity.
There are many other consequences related to the injury. You might lose the ability to work as usual. As a result, injured workers experience wage loss, lower wages or unemployment which may lead them to financial distress. Even though they are injured and are not getting their regular income, these injured workers still have bills to pay and families to look after.
Working with the Workers Compensation system (WCB) is a challenge for many injured workers. Reporting the injury, filling out the related forms, getting good medical advice and accurate reports are very important to the WCB claim process. Without these medical reports and proper records, WCB won’t accept the claim and will not continue to provide benefits. It is very important for workers to have support to fill out the right forms and access all of their benefits. Workers who work in a Unionized workplace can get help from their Union representative when they are injured. Workers who do not work in a Unionized workplace should talk to their doctor or healthcare provider to get support. OHC provides medical care to workers who are sick or injured because of their work and can help workers get access to any WCB benefits they are owed.
The process to return to work depends on the benefits received by the injured worker and the input of the employer. If workers return to work before they are ready, or take on duties against medical advice (even when they are recommended by employers), the worker’s recovery could take longer. Other factors such as family and social network support are very important for a speedy recovery and quicker return to work.
The challenges faced by injured workers can result in experiences of anxiety and stress, and can sometimes lead to mental health struggles such as depression.
Language barriers are one of the major challenges for newcomer workers. WCB forms can be confusing for workers; newcomer workers in particular can have difficulties filing WCB injury reports in full due to language barriers. Lack of support to fill out WCB forms accurately can often lead to the appearance of inconsistencies in their narratives or failure to disclose injuries accurately on their incident reports. This can mean their claim is rejected or they are delayed in getting their benefits.
Many newcomer workers also fear losing their job if they report any injuries so they don’t disclose them and try to work through their injuries as much as possible. This is especially the case for minor injuries which are often not reported at all. Newcomer workers often are responsible to send money to their families in their home country, so are also concerned with letting down their families.
Many newcomer workers are employed as front-line workers or are doing other precarious work, in environments without proper job security in non-unionized and contract work environments. Many work several part-time jobs without benefits, including working night shifts. If an injury happens, many employers will dispute their responsibility to the worker. Sometimes, these workers find themselves terminated or laid off with no option for recourse.
Another challenge for newcomer workers is awareness of the health and safety rights they have as workers. The rules for health and safety can be different in their countries of origin and employers do not always educate workers about the rights they have in Manitoba. These workers are not always aware that they have the right to communicate with their employers and supervisors about unsafe working conditions.
Often newcomer workers experience racism, discrimination, and exploitation in their workplaces. While there has been more awareness of these issues in the workforce during the last decade, there is still much room to improve and advocacy is needed to continue to improve the experiences of newcomers in Canadian workplaces.
Not having proper primary healthcare, including healthcare professionals or a family physician who speaks their language are other challenges experienced by many newcomer injured workers.
Many workers aren’t able to prioritize treatment for minor injuries due to challenges seeking care, the ability to get time off work, and child/eldercare responsibilities. At the same time, many workers postpone reporting the injuries as they think they will get better on their own. Often, workers who don’t get care for minor injuries are not aware of the long-term consequences. Some newcomers have little knowledge of Manitoba’s health care system and not knowing how to navigate the system, or having support to do so, leads to trouble.
Financial stress and disruption to the household income becomes one of the major issues after an injury to the breadwinner of the family. All these financial stresses can lead to unexpected tension for the injured person and their family members. Sometimes these tensions lead to re-injuries, multiple injuries, or recurrence of the injuries.
Disruption of the work-life balance, burn out and the accumulating stress on family units can lead to poor concentration and forgetfulness which can cause unexpected injuries and accidents. It can also lead to mental health problems such as depression and serious chronic illness.
Many newcomers are moving to a new country, a new environment, as healthy individuals with their own hopes and dreams. When they experience unexpected injuries or illness due to their work, the resulting challenges can lead to further anxiety, stress, and mental illness on their settlement journey.
These are some of the common experiences and challenges faced by newcomer injured workers. There are so many hidden challenges. We all need to support newcomer workers to navigate the system and we need to advocate for changes to improve the health and well-being of injured workers in all workplaces and all communities.