Chapter 2: Structure of WCAT
- 2.1 Composition
- 2.2 Role of the Chair
- 2.3 Vice Chairs
- 2.4 Tribunal Counsel Office
- 2.5 Registrar’s Office
- 2.6 Officers of WCAT
- 2.7 Panels
WCAT consists of the chair together with vice chairs and any temporary substitute members [s. 277].
2.2 Role of the Chair
The WCAT chair is responsible for the general operation of WCAT [s. 280(1)]. The chair’s responsibilities include [s. 280(2)]:
- appointing vice chairs in accordance with any procedures or requirements prescribed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council;
- establishing quality adjudication, performance and productivity standards for members of the appeal tribunal and regularly evaluating the members according to those standards;
- developing a 3 year strategic plan and an annual operations plan for the appeal tribunal;
- establishing any forms, practices and procedures required for the efficient and cost effective conduct of appeals to the appeal tribunal, including
- the time periods within which steps must be taken,
- requiring pre-hearing conferences, and
- employing voluntary alternate dispute resolution processes;
- making any forms, practices and procedures established under paragraph (d) accessible to the public;
- establishing administrative practices and procedures for the effective operation of the appeal tribunal;
- providing for public access to decisions of the appeal tribunal in a manner that protects the privacy of the parties to the proceedings;
- for the purposes of section 301, establishing a list of health professionals;
- presiding over meetings of the appeal tribunal;
- establishing panels;
- ordering the consideration of related matters in one hearing before the appeal tribunal;
- establishing a code of conduct, including conflict of interest provisions, that governs the conduct of the members, officers, employees and contractors of the appeal tribunal;
- preparing the annual report of the appeal tribunal;
- appointing officers of the appeal tribunal;
- for the purpose of judicial proceedings, preparing a certificate attaching the record of the appeal tribunal in the matter of a particular appeal or decision of the tribunal, including any practices and procedures applied by the tribunal.
2.2.1 Delegation by the Chair
The chair may delegate in writing to another member or officer of WCAT a power or duty of the chair, with or without limitations or conditions [s. 281(1)]. If the chair has delegated a power or duty and subsequently ceases to hold office, the delegation continues in effect so long as the delegate holds office or until the delegation is revoked by a new chair [s. 281(2)]. The chair routinely makes a general delegation of authority under various sections of the WCA by issuing a delegation decision which may be found on the WCAT’s website at: www.wcat.bc.ca.
The chair must not make a general delegation of authority under sections 304(3), (4) or (5) concerning the chair’s review of policies for lawfulness under the WCA, but may delegate this authority to a vice chair or a panel for the purposes of a specific appeal if the chair believes there may be a reasonable apprehension of bias [s. 304(9)].
2.2.2 Incapacity of the Chair
If the chair is absent or incapacitated, the Cabinet may appoint a temporary substitute member to act during the absence or incapacity. The chair may designate another member of WCAT to act in the chair’s place during a temporary absence [s. 280(4)].
2.3 Vice Chairs
The chair is responsible for appointments of vice chairs after consultation with the Minister Responsible for Labour, and using a merit based selection process established or approved by the chair [s. 278(6)].
The chair may only appoint a person as a vice chair if the person demonstrates [s. 2(a) to (i) Appeal Regulation] (see Appendix 4):
- a knowledge of the workers’ compensation system;
- a knowledge of the principles and practice of administrative law;
- the capacity to apply the knowledge under subsection (b) so as to be able to work effectively as a vice chair of the appeal tribunal;
- the ability to analyze relevant information;
- the ability to make difficult decisions within an established framework of law and policy, including good judgment and decisiveness;
- effective communication skills;
- the ability to work with others;
- the ability to work effectively;
- good character and proven integrity.
2.3.1 Incapacity of Vice Chairs and Members
If a vice chair of WCAT is absent or incapacitated, the chair may appoint a temporary substitute member [s. 278(9)]. A temporary substitute member must be a person who would otherwise be qualified for appointment as a member.
2.4 Tribunal Counsel Office
Tribunal counsel office (TCO) operates under the direction of the senior vice chair and tribunal counsel (tribunal counsel). TCO is responsible for providing legal support to the chair and the vice chairs, continuing education, the MRPP, responding to inquiries under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and from the Ombudsman, initial review of applications for reconsideration, responding to various complaints, and representing WCAT in the courts on judicial reviews of WCAT decisions.
TCO consists of tribunal counsel, vice chair of quality assurance and training, legal counsel, legal researchers (including co-op law students), medical coordinator, library technician, and support staff.
2.5 Registrar’s Office
The registrar’s office operates under the direction of the senior vice chair and registrar (registrar). The registrar’s office is responsible for receiving appeals, determining whether appeals meet the requirements of the WCA, including determining whether WCAT has jurisdiction to hear the appeal, making the initial determination of the method of hearing, and assigning appeals to WCAT panels. The registrar’s office is also responsible for managing the written submissions process and scheduling oral hearings.
The registrar’s office consists of deputy registrars who are vice chairs, a senior registry officer, assessment officers, appeal coordinators, registration and scheduling clerks and support staff.
2.6 Officers of WCAT
The chair may appoint officers of WCAT [s. 234(2)(n)]. The Labour Relations Code, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 244, and the Public Service Labour Relations Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 388, do not apply to members or officers of WCAT [s. 278(8)].
The chair has appointed four types of officers of WCAT:
Senior registry officer, who supervises the appeal coordinators, and the registration, scheduling, filing and reception staff. The senior registry officer consolidates related matters into one hearing, suspends and continues appeal proceedings under sections 305(1) and (3), and extends the statutory time frame as provided for under sections 306(6) and (7).
Assessment officers, who assess new appeals to determine whether they meet the requirements in section 292(2)), and are within WCAT’s jurisdiction; they make provisional decisions on these matters. They confirm who may bring an appeal (the standing of parties) and determine the appropriate appeal method (i.e., written submissions, oral hearing, specialty stream). They consolidate related matters into one hearing, suspend and continue appeal proceedings under sections 305(1) and (3), and extend the statutory time frame as provided for under sections 306(6) and (7).
Appeal coordinators, who are the primary liaisons between WCAT and all parties to an appeal after assessment to closure. They manage individual caseloads of appeals and ensure that timelines for appeal processing are met. Appeal coordinators also suspend and continue appeal proceedings under sections 305(1) and (3), and extend the statutory time frame as provided for under sections 306(6) and (7).
Legal counsel, who represent WCAT with respect to the hearing of petitions for judicial review and related appeals before the superior courts, conduct research and analysis on specific or general legal questions, and provide legal opinions to the chair, senior vice chairs, and vice chairs, particularly in the areas of workers’ compensation and administrative law.
Panels decide appeals to WCAT. The chair must establish the panels. A panel has the power and authority of WCAT in considering an appeal [s. 285(8)].
Appeals will normally be heard by a single member panel consisting of the chair or a vice chair [s. 285(4)
The chair may [s. 285(3)]:
- terminate an appointment to a panel;
- fill a vacancy on a panel;
- refer an appeal that is before one panel to another panel;
- if the member of a single member panel is unable to complete their duties, appoint a new panel to continue the appeal, on terms agreed to by all parties [s. 285(11)].
2.7.1 Three Member Non-Precedent Panels
The chair may appoint a three member panel under section 285(5) based on the complexity and significance of the issues raised in an appeal.
2.7.2 Precedent Panels
The chair may appoint a precedent panel where the chair determines that the matters in an appeal are of special interest or significance to the workers’ compensation system as a whole [s. 285(6)].
A precedent panel will consist of three to seven members. A precedent panel will consist of the chair or a vice chair as the presiding member, plus two to six vice chairs. If the chair is a member of a precedent panel, the chair is the presiding member. Where the chair is not a member of a precedent panel, the chair will designate one of the vice chairs to be the presiding member.
If a member of a precedent panel is unable to complete the appeal, the chair may direct the remaining members of the panel to complete the appeal and make the precedent decision [s. 285(10)].
A decision by a panel appointed under section 285(6) sets a precedent which is binding on future WCAT panels, unless [ss. 303(3) and (4)]:
- the specific circumstances of the matter under appeal are clearly distinguishable from the circumstances in the panel’s decision,
- subsequent to the panel’s decision, a policy of the board of directors relied upon in the panel’s decision is repealed, replaced or revised, or
- the prior decision has been overruled under section 303(4).
A panel appointed under section 285(6) may overrule a prior decision of another panel appointed under that section [s.303(4)].
Where a precedent panel makes findings on issues that are not within the scope of its appointment under section 285(6), those findings are not binding. The precedent panel will clearly highlight those portions of its decision which are not intended to be binding.
2.7.3 Presiding Member
Where the panel has three or more members, the chair or a vice chair will be the presiding member. If a panel consists of more than one member, the decision of the majority is the panel’s decision. If there is no majority, the decision of the presiding member is the panel’s decision [s. 285(9)].
2.7.4 Single Member Panel Unable to Complete Duties
If a single member panel is unable to complete their duties (“original member”), the chair may direct that another panel complete the appeal (“continuing member”) [ss. 285(3) and 285(11)].
Generally the continuing member will review all the evidence, submissions and exhibits that were before the original member, including new evidence (if any) sought by the original member, for example, information or determinations requested under sections 297(2)(b), 297(3)and 302.
If the original member held an oral hearing, WCAT will provide the participating parties with the audio recording of that oral hearing. Participating parties will generally be asked to consent to the appeal proceeding by way of the continuing member listening to the audio recording of the original oral hearing and then completing the appeal. If the continuing member considers that further information or submissions are required to complete the appeal, the continuing member may direct a further oral hearing be scheduled or written submission be provided. This may occur where, for example, the audio recording of the original oral hearing is inaudible in part or the continuing member requires further clarification of an issue.
If all parties do not consent to the above process for completing the appeal, the continuing member will conduct a new oral hearing and then complete the appeal.
If a new oral hearing is conducted, generally the continuing member will listen to the audio recording of the original oral hearing. A party may use the audio recording to contradict a witness’ testimony during cross-examination. The continuing member will give all parties an opportunity to make submissions on the testimony at the original oral hearing.
If due to mechanical or human failure or other accident the audio recording of the original oral hearing is destroyed or missing, the chair will direct an oral hearing be held before the continuing member [s. 285(3)(c)].