The Advisor Office decoded
Deciphering vernacular is half the battle in navigating Alberta’s workers’ compensation system. The WCB lexicon exists in near constant flux namely because of ever changing legislation and policy making. And for this reason, WCB’s alphabet soup is notoriously difficult to absorb.
Of the many enigmas, perhaps most mystifying for both injured workers and employers alike is the Advisor Office (AO), formerly known as the Fair Practices Office, which is separate from the Fair Process Review Centre, and also distinct from the WCB Fairness Ombudsman. The AO assists WCB clients in appealing WCB’s decisions, providing advice and a measure of advocacy at no charge. The Workers’ Compensation Act does not provide “a right” to Advisor Office services, but the Advisor Office does reserve the right to refuse services to a worker or an employer. Also notable is that the Advisor Office formally reports to the Appeals Commission, an arrangement that invites uncomfortable conflicts of interest that won’t sit well with everyone.
Who does the Advisor Office serve?
The Advisor Office is a neutral and semi-autonomous service provider that represents clients – workers and employers – with appeals before WCB and the AC. Attempts are made to balance the interests of workers and employers, but the AO doesn’t take sides per se. The AO may even represent opposing parties on the same file, as their goal isn’t to ensure a particular outcome, but rather, to ensure fairness. This is a point worthy of repeating. Office advisors are neutral parties, so whether their ‘clients’ win or lose is a matter of relative indifference to them, provided some ambiguous degree of ‘fairness’ is achieved.
Tantamount to a public defender of sorts, the Advisor Office can be a worthy resource for indigent workers, or for anyone who has questions concerning a relatively straightforward claim. By straightforward, I mean claims devoid of multiple injuries, psychological components, preexisting or concurrent conditions, spinal or brain damage, or any number of other complexities. Given their heavy caseloads, Office Advisors are forced to apportion their time democratically, meaning that complex claims can’t be given the time they deserve. Doing the research, pouring over precedent cases, weighing strategies, drafting and refining case briefs, prepping for hearings, coordinating independent medical exams, et cetera, is extremely time-consuming when performed meticulously. And the free-of-charge advisors simply lack the mandate to deliver in these respects. However, for simple claims involving no-time loss, no wage-loss, and other low-stakes disputes, the Advisor Office absolutely serves a valuable purpose.
To really drive this home, imagine for a minute that you’re wrongly implicated in a bank robbery. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 to life. Naturally you’re outraged and mortified, and you wonder who to turn to for help. Assuming you have the means, odds are good that you’re not looking to hire a state-sponsored public defender. More likely you’re dialing everyone you know in a desperate search for the very best criminal defense attorney.
The same could be said of an injured worker whose wrongful disentitlement to benefits might cost him or her several million dollars in lost wage replacement. Or the employer who wrongly inherits a fatality claim that triples the company’s WCB premiums and triggers massive revenue loss due to a damaged experience rating. In either case, considering the high stakes, it’s fair to surmise that both parties will look to maximize the probability of decision reversal by hiring the very best WCB appeal specialist.
How do I contact WCB’s Advisor Office?
You can call the Advisor’s Office toll-free at: 1-866-427-0115 or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also fill out the following contact form here. The Advisor Office for Alberta Worker’s Compensation in Edmonton is located at #200, 10405 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, AB T5J 3N4. The Advisor Office for Alberta Worker’s Compensation in Calgary is located in the Braithwaite Boyle Building, #602, 1701 Centre Street NW, Calgary, AB T2E 7Y2.
The final word
None of this is to cast doubt on the competence of personnel employed by the AO. But in cases where the price of launching a proper appeal is greatly eclipsed by the potential payback, you should think carefully about the actual cost of a free service.