For WSIB Purposes, is “Intent” to Study Enough to Make You a “Student”?
In a recent Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance (WSI) benefits claim case1, the 34-year old worker’s left hand had been seriously injured on-the-job, and he had lost all four fingers and the tip of his thumb.
When it came time to determining his WSI benefits, the issue was whether it should be calculated based on his status and earnings as a full-time permanent worker making $12 per hour, or whether it should be calculated on the basis that he was a “student”. The distinction was very important, because he indicated that at the time of the accident he had been pursuing studies to become a Firefighter, which would entitle to him to much higher wages upon completion of his studies – and thus a higher level of WSI benefits in compensation for the workplace injury.
The starting point for the decision was the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 (the “Act”), which defines “student” as being a person “pursuing formal education as a full-time or part-time student”.
The problem was that although the worker had certainly taken courses to become a Firefighter, he had been forced to discontinue his studies because he ran out of money, and was ineligible for student loans. At the time of his workplace injury he was working full-time, but said it was so that he could save money to complete a college program in Fire Services. He admitted that he was not actively registered to attend school at any college at that time, but said he intended to return to school in the very near future.
The legal question was whether the worker’s “intent” to return to his studies was sufficient to make him a student for WSI purposes. A Case Manager had earlier concluded that – absent proof that he was actually registered in an education program at the time of injury – he did not qualify under the Act’s definition.
On later appeal, the WSI Appeals Resolution Officer confirmed that ruling: The worker needed more than merely “intent.” At the time of the accident the worker was not only not registered to attend school anywhere, he had not actively attended school for over 2.5 years due to lack of funds.
The Officer added that while the worker was “no doubt motivated to seek employment at the time of his injury his motivation alone is not sufficient enough to classify him as a ‘student’” under the definition in the Act. He was therefore classified as a worker earning $12 per hour, with his WSI benefits calculated accordingly.
20172033 (Re), 2017 CanLII 85452 (ON WSIB)