On judicial review, the court quashed a decision of the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Review Division on the basis that the Review Division unreasonably applied a cap to the applicant’s pension replacement benefit

Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Workers Compensation Boards – Workers Compensation – Benefits – Loss of earnings – Pensions – Calculations – Judicial review – Compliance with legislation – Statutory interpretation – Standard of review – Reasonableness simpliciter

Allen v. Newfoundland and Labrador (Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Review Division), [2014] N.J. No. 45, 2014 NLTD(G) 20, Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, February 18, 2014, R.P. Stack J.

The applicant was injured in the course of his employment and was subsequently laid off from his position as an ironworker. The Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (“Commission”) approved the applicant for wage loss benefits. When the applicant turned 65, he was entitled to apply for a pension replacement benefit (“PRB”) in relation to his employer sponsored pension plan (“ESPP”). The Commission determined the applicant’s PRB by applying a maximum compensable annual earnings cap to the applicant’s assumed post injury income before application of his rate of pension accrual.

The applicant argued that the cap should not have been applied. The Review Division upheld the Commission’s determination of the applicant’s PRB reasoning that it was made in accordance with the applicable legislation, regulations and policy. The Review Division’s decision was reconsidered and upheld by the Chief Review Commissioner. The applicant then sought judicial review.

The issue before the court was whether the decision to uphold the application of a cap to the applicant’s PRB, was reasonable. The applicant argued that s.75(1) of the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Act (the “Act”) did not permit the application of such a cap. The Commission asked the court to read into s. 75 the following language: “the wages used to calculate the lost pension benefit shall be adjusted by application of the MAE”. Implicitly, the Commission read such language into s. 75(1) and the Review Division found that by doing so the Commission acted within its authority under the Act and regulations.

Section 75, in plain words, says that where a worker is eligible for compensation from the Commission resulting from a workplace injury reaches the age of 65, the Commission shall pay him an amount equal to the amount of a benefit that he demonstrates he has lost as a result of the injury, provided the lost benefit would have been provided by one of the types of pensions identified in s. 75(1).

The court noted that the starting point for statutory interpretation is to refer to the plain meaning rule. The court found that there was nothing in the Act, or any ancillary information considered, that altered the plain meaning of s. 75(1) in this matter. As such, the court found that the Commission must pay the applicant an amount equal to the pension he demonstrates that he has lost as a result of this workplace injury, without deduction or set-off except as expressly provided for under the Act or regulations. Based on this, the court found the decision of the Review Division unreasonable and remitted the matter back to the Commission to calculate the applicant’s lost ESPP pension benefits and to pay him a PRB in that amount from the date of his eligibility.

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