Chapter 19: Public Access to WCAT Decisions
- 19.1 General
- 19.2 Writing Decisions Without Identifiers
- 19.2.1 Confidentiality and Privacy
- 19.2.2 Names
- 19.2.3 Representatives
- 19.2.4 File or Appeal Numbers
- 19.2.5 Payroll, Revenue Data, and Salary Information
- 19.2.6 Geographic Locations
- 19.2.7 Quotations
- 19.2.8 Corrections or Revisions – Inadvertent Error
- 19.2.9 Certification to Court
- 19.2.10 Second Level of Editing in Limited Circumstances
- 19.2.11 Exception
- 19.3 Noteworthy Decisions
Section 280(2)(g) provides that the chair is responsible for providing public access to WCAT decisions in a manner that protects the privacy of the parties to the appeal. WCAT must also comply with the confidentiality and privacy provisions of both the WCA (s. 314) and FIPPA.
WCAT has an internet website (www.wcat.bc.ca) with a search engine which permits public access to its decisions. WCAT decisions are posted to the WCAT website soon after they are issued.
In general, panels write decisions without parties’ personal identifiers so that no severing of identifying information is required. As section 311 certificates are publicly accessible after being filed in the legal action at a British Columbia court registry, personal identifiers are not removed.
19.2 Writing Decisions Without Identifiers
Panels are primarily responsible for ensuring that their decisions do not contain identifiers and may be posted to WCAT’s website without violating section 280(2)(g).
19.2.1 Confidentiality and Privacy
Information which in and of itself would not need to be protected (such as geographic locations) will be protected to the extent necessary to safeguard confidentiality and privacy of the parties. Where there is doubt as to whether particular data would tend to identify a party, the doubt should generally be resolved to protect confidentiality and privacy.
The following names will not be used in decisions: names of parties (such as the worker and employer), names of lay witnesses, names of Board officers (such as case managers, vocational rehabilitation consultants, and review officers). Board medical advisors will be identified by name while others will normally be referred to by title (e.g. case manager, review officer, etc.).
The highest level of protection of privacy is afforded to parties and lay witnesses. Panels may identify parties and lay witnesses by role (the worker, employer, manager, etc.) or by initial.
Panels will generally use names of expert witnesses, such as physicians, and names taken from a public source (such as a published medical article or textbook, a court judgment, or Hansard). If use of an expert’s name is likely to identify the worker, the panel may refer to the expert by title (e.g. the worker’s attending physician) or by an actual initial. The panel may use a coded initial if using the actual initial might identify a party or lay witness.
Names of treating facilities will be dealt with similarly. Panels may refer to treating facilities by their name, or by title (e.g. a local hospital or physiotherapy clinic) or by an actual initial. A coded initial may be used where the name of the facility might identify a party or lay witness.
Following the convention in the superior courts, panels will not normally refer to representatives by name or role, unless necessary to make sense of a particular issue. Rather, panels will only refer to the parties’ evidence and arguments. For example, where a worker’s representative submitted evidence or made an argument orally or in writing, the panel will write that “the worker submitted” or “the worker argued.”
19.2.4 File or Appeal Numbers
Panels will not include Board file numbers (worker’s claim file number, or employer’s registration number) in the body of a decision. Similarly panels will not use WCAT, Appeal Division or Review Board appeal numbers in the body of a decision. WCAT, Appeal Division, or Review Division decision numbers may be cited in decisions.
19.2.5 Payroll, Revenue Data, and Salary Information
Panels will protect employers’ payroll and revenue data in decisions. In some cases, protecting the identity of the employer will be sufficient as the payroll or revenue data would not be identifiable by itself. Where the reasons and analysis in a WCAT decision might tend to identify the employer, it may be necessary for the panel to refer to the payroll or revenue data in general or approximate terms.
Similarly, in addressing issues concerning a worker’s employability, panels must take care to avoid disclosing the salaries paid by particular, identifiable employers. This might arise, for example, in connection with a worker’s job search efforts and contacts with various employers.
19.2.6 Geographic Locations
Panels may name geographic locations where these refer to a country, province, or large city such as Vancouver or Victoria. If reference to particular geographic locations might lead to the identification of a party or lay witness, panels should use a general description (e.g. a northern community) instead.
Panels must edit quotations from sources such as medical opinions and submissions to protect privacy. This will normally be accomplished by substituting a descriptive term for a name, and using square brackets to show the change, e.g. [the worker].
19.2.8 Corrections or Revisions – Inadvertent Error
If identifying information is inadvertently posted to the WCAT website, WCAT will edit the decision to comply with these guidelines.
19.2.9 Certification to Court
WCAT files a Certification to Court in a legal action in the appropriate British Columbia court registry. Accordingly, after filing, WCAT will make its decisions under section 311 publicly available without removing names and other identifying information.
However, a Certification to Court provided for filing in a court registry outside of British Columbia will be edited for privacy, as it is provided to the parties and WCAT does not file it in the legal action.
19.2.10 Second Level of Editing in Limited Circumstances
In limited circumstances, it may be appropriate for a panel to issue a decision to the parties which is further edited to protect privacy before the decision is made accessible to the public. This will occur rarely where the ability of parties to understand the facts, evidence, or reasoning will be made unduly difficult by complying with the above guidelines. In this event, it will be the responsibility of the panel to provide the two versions of the decision.
In exceptional circumstances, the chair may direct that a WCAT decision not be made publicly accessible, or that only a summary be made publicly accessible. WCAT may also consider a party’s request not to post a decision to the website. This may occur where:
- the case is particularly identifiable and contains sensitive personal information;
- editing fails to protect the privacy of a party or renders the decision unintelligible; and,
- the beneficial effects of non-publication on the website, including protecting a party’s privacy, outweigh its deleterious effects, taking into account the public interest in having access to decisions of significance to workers’ compensation law, and public accountability where issues raised are significant to the public.
In general, however, privacy will be protected by following the above guidelines.
19.3 Noteworthy Decisions
WCAT is a high volume tribunal which decides thousands of appeals each year. Given the size of the decisions database, it is sometimes difficult to conduct useful searches. As a result, WCAT staff have selected certain decisions to be designated as noteworthy.
Noteworthy decisions fall into two distinct categories:
- they may provide significant commentary or interpretive guidance regarding workers’ compensation law or policy, or comment on important issues related to WCAT procedure; or,
- they may serve as general examples of the application of provisions of the WCA and its regulations, the policies of the board of directors, or various adjudicative principles.
Noteworthy decisions are not binding on WCAT. Although they may be cited and followed by WCAT panels, they are not necessarily intended to be leading decisions. It is open to panels to consider any previous WCAT decision in the course of considering an appeal. Noteworthy decisions are provided on WCAT’s website at www.wcat.bc.ca for general information and guidance only.