Dear Members and Friends:
Theatre Alberta, along with our colleagues at Front Row Centre Players and the Calgary Alliance of Community Theatres (Calgary ACTS), are pleased to share with you some important news from the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) – Alberta regarding proposed policy changes to clarify coverage for volunteers and unpaid workers. The WCB Alberta is currently seeking feedback on these proposed policy changes from stakeholders, which includes employers, employees, volunteers, industry associations, and the general public as well. Feedback can be provided until September 13, 2013.
We are writing this letter to provide you with background information and an overview of the current WCB Alberta policies and proposed changes as they apply to our community, and to urge you to provide feedback to the WCB.
Many of you will remember hearing about Front Row Centre Players’ dispute with the WCB Alberta in December 2012. Front Row Centre Players (FRC) is an amateur theatre company in Calgary with a 24-year history of producing musical theatre. In 2010, a company member was injured during an FRC production run and a WCB claim was subsequently filed. The WCB opened an account for FRC in order to pay the claim and was attempting to collect the associated premiums. FRC appealed this action, and issued a variety of communication tools to engage the theatre community and the public to express their opinions on the matter. For more information, see Theatre Alberta’s blog post from December 11, 2012.
In response to the matter and in preparation for a requested meeting with the WCB Alberta, Theatre Alberta consulted with several community theatres across Alberta throughout January to determine what types of insurance they had in place for their paid workers and volunteers, and whether or not they were aware that workers’ compensation coverage for their volunteers was mandatory, as theatre is classified as an industry requiring compulsory coverage. (This was news to us at Theatre Alberta too, and was especially difficult to comprehend because the workers’ compensation section of our Safe Stages resource, which was approved for publication by WCB employees and published by Alberta Human Services, says the opposite – that coverage for volunteers is not mandatory for not-for-profit employers.)
In January Theatre Alberta met with the WCB Alberta to review the industry’s immediate questions and concerns as well as discuss possible changes to policy. It is important for us to note here that throughout this entire process, the staff of the WCB Alberta was receptive, attentive, and thoughtful in their consideration of the information we brought forward. And it has led to, in our opinion, a positive outcome for the theatre community.
The Policy Changes as they Pertain to the Theatre Community
Under the current legislation and policy, all theatre companies (from community to professional) operate in a compulsory industry under the Workers Compensation Act and must have accounts that cover all paid workers and volunteers.
The proposed policy changes recommend that not-for-profit employers will have the option of providing workers’ compensation coverage for their volunteers (but will still be required to provide coverage for all paid workers). Note that if an employer wishes to provide coverage for volunteers, they must cover all volunteers. This will require companies to keep records of volunteer hours and determine a reasonable ‘value of service’ (hourly wage estimate).
Of note: Workers’ compensation is an insurance product that protects employers from lawsuits, as well as provides financial assistance to injured workers or volunteers. It is not the same as liability insurance, and it is not necessarily related to occupational health and safety legislation and practices. As such, a theatre company’s decision to purchase this insurance product should be based on a detailed financial risk assessment and the desired benefits of their volunteer program.
We would like to thank our members and supporters of community theatre across the province who raised their voices in support of our industry over the past few months. Your collective voice made this issue a priority for the WCB, and we believe that theatre companies, theatre practitioners, and theatre volunteers, as well as not-for-profit employers and volunteers in all industries will benefit if the proposed policy changes are approved following the public consultation period.
Again, we urge you to review the proposed changes in detail and provide your feedback to the WCB Alberta. There are many industries that will be affected by these policy changes, and it is crucial that the theatre community provides our input and recognizes the work done on our behalf.
Should you have any questions as you review the information, please do not hesitate to contact Theatre Alberta.
All the best,
Keri Mitchell, Executive Director, Theatre Alberta
Janos Zeller, Vice President, Front Row Centre Players
Bill Torrie, President, Calgary Alliance of Community Theatres