University Students in Alberta Designated as Employees

Injured students cannot sue their university for injuries the occur on campus

The Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board Appeals Commission ruled that a student at a university was not an employee under the Workers’ Compensation Board legislation. The University of Lethbridge appealed that decision and won, in a ruling available at:

http://www.albertacourts.ab.ca/jdb/2003-/qb/civil/2007/2007abqb0551.cor1.pdf


A number of matters are troubling about this decision. The ruling states that university students are considered employees* of of the Government of Alberta because the Workers’ Compensation Act includes “learner” in the definition of employee, and because the Workers’ Compensation Board Regulations allow the Board to “make orders declaring that the Act applies to the following classes of persons: (c) students registered in and attending: (i) a university as defined in the Universities Act.”


QUESTIONS:

  1. (1)The Workers” Compensation Act defines “learner” as:
    “a person who, although not under a contract of service or apprenticeship, becomes subject to the hazards of an industry to which this Act applies for the purpose of undergoing testing, training or probationary work preliminary to employment in an industry to which this Act applies”. WHAT?

  2. (2)Should we not recognize that the definition is silly? No other province designates their students as employees, and it appears that neither the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act nor the Appeals Commission of the Workers’ Compensation Board sees this as a reasonable designation.

  3. (3)Should a university use its resources to defend a silly designation? Is our obligation not to promote clear thinking and reasoned judgments? And does this designation not fail both tests?

  4. (4)Given the potentially serious consequences of such designation (as already experienced by one student), are our universities not obligated to warn students in every possible way from the very first contact that we consider our students to be employees (unpaid—of course)? We know that our students are not aware of their status as employees nor of the implications of that designation. Do we want them to remain ignorant of that situation?


SOLUTION:

If the universities in Alberta are going to defend this silly designation, let’s consider the following solution. Have students sue the universities for unpaid back wages. Given that a four-year degree will usually involve about 5000 hours of work, even at a $10-an-hour McDonald’s wage, that would amount to $50,000. At the convocation ceremonies, each student would pick up a diploma and a cheque for $50,000 as they walked across the stage—diminishing considerably the pain of a heavy student loan debt and increasing considerably the excitement of convocation ceremonies.

Silly? Of course. But not more silly that the designation of students as employees.


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*The Workers’ Compensation Act and Regulations uses the term “worker” or “worker employed” rather than “employee.” The term “employer” is a standard one in the Act and in the Regulations.

     


EXAMINING ADMINISTRATIVE PRACTICE IN PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS