Bob Siluch’s Story

I was a victim of Employment Law and Human Rights abuse after reporting a work-related injury.

I was actively employed by a Professional Trucking Company from 1994-1996 that was founded in 1947 in Alberta that was built on a proud history of family values, and principles reflecting that employees were a part of the company family and were treated with respect and represented Alberta and Canadian pride including the United States of America.

I believed at the time I was hired I would have a promising future to grow within this organization that wants to set a professional standard and be a leader within the industry and after receiving numerous awards and recognition for being a 1st class organization from the Transportation Industry including an award by the Federal Government on January 19, 1995 as one of Canada’s 50 Best Private Companies to work for.

While working for this company and contributing my driving and professional attitude I believed I was in fact driving for a professional company which carried itself with pride, integrity and was loyal and my understanding was they would look out for employees, and ensure that employees suffering from an injury (caused by work or not) would receive open, frank communications and supports.

During my employment I received awards and recognition for being a valued employee, and for my job performance and contribution to the growth of the company. I had a strong sense of pride and self-respect when wearing their uniform, and felt like I was part of the family. I placed my trust in the belief that drivers safety and wellbeing on the job mattered to senior officials.

Prior to being hired I was a 31-year-old, highly motivated and productive individual and a dedicated hardworking employee that was in exceptional top physical condition having just completed a Forest Technician Program that included wildland firefighting training that met the standards for the Alberta Wildland Firefighter Employment Program.

During these 8 months of intense training I had achieved a top fitness award of 97% along with a 100% Attendance Record. I had also received letters of recognition from previous employers in the Trucking Industry for being a dependable professional driver with outstanding job performance reports.

All this changed on August 28, 1995 when I had reported a serious work-related low back injury to my employer I was not permitted to report the injury to WCB despite my specific request to do so, and despite the clear connection between my injury and the heavy physical demanding job duties as a professional driver consisting of 70 hours per week frequent lifting, pushing, pulling above 100 lbs. Physically demanding job duties as a professional driver as acknowledged by the Compliance and Safety Department to W.C.B. on September 10, 1998 during an investigation.

Extensive work days in the city of 15 hours on average and supported by a Driver’s Daily Log Book consisting of Driving/Physically Loading and Unloading 75% of time, Driving /Sitting up to 2 hours, standing up to 6 hours (as noted on February 29, 1996 by the Operation Supervisor) were excessive taking into consideration the physical demands of lifting and moving heavy loads by hand and scheduling did not provide for adequate meals breaks and did not permit adequate personal time to recover from fatigue and to maintain personal exercise and fitness routine.

There was also ample objective medical evidence supporting that my injury was clearly a result of employment as a professional driver.

For that reason, it was particularly difficult to see the company acknowledging in 1998 that back injuries were a recognized high risk for professional drivers while accounting for 63 claims in a 41-month period of their own, and to be an industry leader on the issue and setting an example for other companies to follow. Company Officials had failed to adequately report my work-related injury to the Workers Compensation Board as was required by the Workers Compensation Act and my experience has demonstrated the opposite and bringing into question company mandate/policy and leaderships role.

At the beginning and throughout my medical leave my rights as an injured worker were never explained nor written documentation provided to me by company officials to give a clear understanding of how this process works and while on supervised medical leave my employment being abruptly terminated via telephone on October 18, 1996.

Instead of support and encouragement, I encountered obstacles, ridicule and undermining my intelligence to the extent that I was no longer made to feel welcomed within this organization as a team member.

This had a negative impact on my personal life, and made the work-related injury more difficult to deal with. I believe that individuals in the Human Resources and Safety departments failed to adequately report my work-related injury to the Workers Compensation Board as was required by the Workers Compensation Act. Despite maintaining regular contact with company officials, I was told that company officials had a hard time getting in touch with me clearly this was not true.

I believe that this company failed in their responsibility as an employer to protect my best interests in the process. I was told at the beginning by company officials’ that the long-term disability policy that I was placed on would provide me with comparable benefits as WCB, but that was clearly not accurate.

For example:     

  • It does not cover 90 percent of net earnings including overtime;
  • Benefits were not indexed for inflation. Each year I receive less in real money. I was living below the poverty line;
  • I have not received any effective treatment nor retraining;
  • There is no coverage for permanent partial disability benefits;
  • No coverage for expert medical reports or specialist examinations.
  • There is no coverage for certain out-of-pocket medical expenses;
  • There is no coverage for standard rehabilitation and preventative treatments.

 

Prior to the termination of my employment I was never provided with an opportunity to consider any modified work duties. This is a legislated requirement under the Alberta Human Rights Act, and that the same obligation applied during my employment and thereafter. I believe that once I had been accepted on the long-term disability policy, the company forgot about its ongoing obligations to me.

That caused me to file a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

My complaint:

  1. I was deterred from filing a claim with W.C.B. by my employer when the injury was reported.
  2. Employer failed to report injury to W.C.B. as outlined in the ACT and is required by Law.
  3. I was harassed, disciplined, had to submit to drug testing and was humiliated in front of others.
  4. Harassment by my employer while on disability regarding my treatment, rehabilitation plan
  5. Mail including disability checks that was sealed and addressed to my residence went through inter-office mail from head office to divisional office, it was then opened and photo-copied by officials, I was present at the time this occurred. I was not consulted prior to nor did I give permission for this action.
  6. My employer made unfounded allegations that I was harassing a fellow employee.
  7. Verbal termination of employment while on disability leave.
  8. Lack of direction, support, and fulfilling moral responsibilities from company officials.

My complaint was upheld and the Alberta Human Rights Commission did conclude that the termination of my employment was based on my physical disability. It recommended that I receive damages for the breach of my human rights.

In my opinion, I was treated unfairly following that report and it was only after I filed my complaint that company representatives appeared to (for a short time) take my concerns seriously. The impact of all of this on my health and wellbeing has been enormous. My standard of living continues to deteriorate, and my ability to deal with my ongoing medical conditions worsens.

I live daily with chronic pain resulting from Extensive Lumbar Muscle Dysfunction and Ligament damage with Nerve Impingement, affecting my legs and toes and suffer from sleep deprivation. I have limited mobility.

I have been forced to make an early withdrawal of my RRSP savings and take out a personal bank loan to meet my daily living expenses I also receive CPP disability pension, which in return is deducted from my monthly disability pension incurring further financial hardship. This would not have been the case had I been on WCB benefits.

It has been over 22 years now since reporting my injury and now at the age of 53 my disability continues & this company’s disability coverage continues to acknowledge this and pay monthly disability benefits and deduct my CPP disability benefits. My income falls below what the provincial AISH program provides, and I am left to rely on the largess of family members to ensure that I have a safe place to live.

Perhaps most worrisome is that the benefits I receive under the long-term disability plan will terminate when I turn 65. I have no retirement savings, and no prospects of new employment. My situation will only deteriorate over time and will be unable to become independent from family members for support.

My reason for coming forward is to share my personal experience and to raise public awareness with the hope it will educate others including those whose goal is to become a professional driver in the trucking industry. Workers endure challenges and obstacles every day while fighting for their rights of fairness and protection after reporting an injury because of their employment and to help prevent what has occurred to me personally, to not be repeated to others.

My experience of an employer who appeared to blatantly disregarded government regulations from August 28, 1995, and was totally unsupportive of my situation, is an example of how these kinds of actions can negatively affect the wellbeing of the worker, and indirectly impact their family & friends.

In my opinion, injured workers should not have to endure this type of Workers’ Compensation Board, Employment Standards and Human Rights abuse from an employer and most certainly not from a government agency especially with the Workers Compensation Board Act that was put in place by this same government in the beginning that was intended to protect the worker, be fair, based on unbiased medical evidence, daily job duties and occupation.

I believe an independent 3rd party is needed to oversee fairness without employer or government influence and hold those accountable to face severe penalties for such violation. I believe the federal government also be involved to monitor inter-provincial transportation companies such as the one I was employed at to ensure full compliance of regulations including A). Worker Safety, B). W.C.B. Protocol including reporting incurred medical expenses, time loss from work and modified duties.

To sum up my experience in my opinion I believe this company from the beginning was a bully:

1) Not permitting me to report my injury to WCB, 2) Officials went out of their way to avoid accountability by first not reporting the injury to WCB then denied knowledge of it being work related,

3) Had me return to work to perform NON-Approved “modified duties” without pay including making several attempts afterwards and at the time without reporting to WCB and their Insurance Provider as required.

While on supervised medical leave the Operations Supervisor made attempts to have me return to work and deliver a load within central Alberta citing they were short a driver. I was intrusted by a senior official to call this same Operations Supervisor every Monday morning to see what needs to be done around the office in the evenings after 5 and to work weekends all without pay and without being specific but may include delivering loads and again and without written approval from my family physician and no supporting documentation for a back to work modified duties plan from their Insurance provider.

Risking not only my disability benefits again but my safety and wellbeing and putting my coworkers and the public safety at risk and not to mention the company at risk for further liability if my injury worsens or I returned to driving and cause an accident due to my medical condition.

4) Terminated employment while on supervised medical leave and in a rehabilitation, a program intended to return to work on modified duties once completed.

5) Had confidence in knowing that our government and elected officials would not intervene and uphold the Law to protect the rights of an injured worker as written in the WCB and Employment ACT.

Most notably after officials became aware my employer clearly acknowledges in writing that I was off work due to a serious low back injury (Lumbosacral Disc Herniation Left Side), having 63 back injury claims in 41 months, instructed me to not report the injury to WCB, having me return to work to perform NON Approved “modified duties” without pay and failing to report this to their Insurance Provider and W.C.B. as required at the time it was performed

As acknowledged by my employer my termination of employment was solely based on medical evidence citing I am unable to work, clearly a violation of an injured worker rights under Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Board Act, Disability Act, Employment Standards Code and Human Rights Act.

Preventative Measures

Immediately after seeking medical treatment for your work related injury and reporting to your employer and to the Workers Compensation Board seek an employment lawyer to provide guidance in how the process works and to protect your rights do not put your trust in the belief that your employer or the Workers Compensation Board will look out for you and explain unbiasedly on how the process works including understanding the WCB policy or Company Group Long Term Disability Policy, Canadian Disability Act, CPP Disability, AiSH Disability, Gainful and Productive employment, Employers Duty to Accommodate, Independent Medical Easements, Pre- Employment Injury Status, and Occupational Functional Capacity Evaluation & Vocational Assessment.

Arranged via your lawyer to ensure fairness and provide documentation outlining Employer and Employee responsibilities and Most vital role your Family Physician’s role in supervision in providing WRITTEN APPROVAL of treatment and returning to work on modified duties from an injury or with a pre-existing injury if required and or retraining for a different occupation not only is this a requirement under WCB policy or Insurance it is Disability, Employment Law, Human Rights Act intended to protect your health and safety from re-injury resulting in making your injury worse and hindering recovery efforts arranged by your family physician.

Maintain a daily journal making note of all phone calls, meetings and medical appointments including specialists and medical reports and x-rays everything that is related to your disability claim.

Keep extra copies of ALL this documentation of medical expenses, travel expenses, emails, fax copies and receipts, letters including hand written notes received regardless how in significant it may appear to be and send out your letters registered requiring a signature upon delivery.

A paper trail of ALL documentation, medical reports, Rehabilitation & Return to work plans including dates THIS is the key to building a solid case in protecting your rights and securing your disability claim if you are unable to return to any employment. Disclosing ONLY to your lawyer.

Throughout the process you most likely will encounter roadblocks including undermining of your intelligence from officials as they will mostly likely will not be upfront and honest in disclosing the rules and being fair in assisting you in your recovery efforts and having you return to work under your family physician’s supervision.

Always maintain regular appointments with your physician and contact with your lawyer and provide updates and be prepared for possibly a long road ahead in protecting your rights as an injured work on disability leave and most important stay focused, positive and stand your ground knowing the truth is on your side, have patience’s and you will prevail in the long run in your fight against this this type of malicious behaviour and injustice from an abusive employer and government agencies, do not accept any apology, offer, settle any agreement or sign anything without FIRST discussing your options and receiving advice from legal consul as this his/her obligation to provide in protecting your best interests and rights.

In Conclusion

The company mission statement that I worked for outlines their focus on “our original family values of respect, integrity and loyalty” (these same core values and principles my parents had raised me on). It is clearly stated on numerous occasions in monthly newsletters that this company takes great pride in “listening to our people “and “we place a lot of emphasis on family” However, as an employee, I experienced none of the above instead I was treated as an outcast after I became injured.

I consider myself a professional driver and endeavored to be a part of the company’s’ proud heritage while maintaining a professional level of service and corresponding attitude however, my personal experience at the time was that this company made no effort to educate their drivers in preventing serious back injuries and in fact offered no support once an injury occurred.

During the course of my disability and when I reported my work related injury the company had clearly demonstrated defiance as evident in documentation, I was not only denied the right to file a Workers Compensation Claim for my low back injury I was also denied the opportunity to address my concerns with company officials, and was bullied and harassed and ultimately terminated in a most unprofessional and demeaning manner while on medical leave seeking appropriate treatment under my family physician’s care and on the company’s group policy long term disability coverage.

I sincerely feel that it is the responsibility of the employer and the entire trucking industry to review employment standards, provide in writing Full Transparency (Full Disclosure) and to take a serious approach to improved safer working conditions and employment related injuries.

The benefits of increased productivity and eliminating loss of qualified drivers would be enormous. Reductions in the occurrence of injuries would eliminate the effects of depression, low self-esteem, the stress of financial hardship on the employee and the corresponding negative impact on family and friends.

In my case as a professional driver

The company (has since closed its doors) did in fact demonstrate the reason why there is a need to form an Independent 3rd party to have a vital role not only monitor but review and hold accountable the Trucking Industry when it comes to all work related injuries, how each claim handled on a case to case bases by company officials and provide better education to professional drivers in helping them to better understand prevented safety measures on injuries importantly on low back injuries and following proper procedure in reporting work related injuries to the Workers Compensation Board and Employment Regulations.

It must be made mandatory with enforcement, to prevent this ongoing employee abuse from the Trucking industry as a whole not be allowed to continue this self-regulating attitude on reporting their injuries to the Workers Compensation Board and to provide in writing Full Transparency (Full Disclosure), to a 3rd independent party for unbiased outcomes and recommendations with focus on safety to protect the employee.

Closing Statement

I find it very disheartening a family business that was founded in 1947 in a small rural Alberta community and was well groomed by several founding fathers visioning themselves as a leader in the trucking industry claiming to incorporate family values into their business while instilling to their employees this belief and wanting to set professional standards in the industry on employee safety by following government regulations would in turn abandon and go to such length to avoid responsibility in protecting an employee’s health & wellbeing, rights while promoting fairness and safety in the Trucking Industry.

I also lost a promising forestry career due to this type of abusive behaviour.

Bob Siluch        

ABRC obtained full permission to post the authors name.