This paper presents results of a Canadian study looking at workers’ compensation regulatory frameworks, designed to optimise return to work outcomes, as applied to precariously employed workers. Comparing frameworks in the two Canadian provinces of Québec and Ontario we find that in both provinces the quality and nature of incentives placed on employers and insurers to return workers to their maximum earning capacity is largely driven by their earnings at the time of injury, while the nature of the incentives placed on workers also varies depending on their earnings at the time of injury, but in different ways. Workers employed by temporary employment agencies are also disadvantaged because of the system design, regardless of their earnings. The disparity in incentives, particularly with regard to employers and insurers, leads to situations of systemic discrimination, whereby those whose work is undervalued at the time of injury, such as recent immigrants who are over-qualified for the positions they hold, receive minimalist support in return to work as compared to workers whose claims will be more costly for the system and the employer. Support is thus predicated on costs rather than potential employability or needs. Those in non-standard employment relationships are further undermined by the diffuse nature of responsibilities in return to work.
The study relies on classic legal methodology combined with interview data drawn from interviews undertaken in 2016 and 2017 with workers, employers, and key informants, a mixed methods approach which allows us to identify the specific rules in each of the two systems that favour or undermine adequate support in reducing work disability.