Preserving workers' dignity in workers' compensation systems: An international perspective


  • Katherine Lippel LLL, LLM

    Corresponding author
    1. Canada Research Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Law, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law (Civil Law Section), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    • 603 King Edward ave., Ottawwa, Ontario, Canada K1N6N5.
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  • Conflicts of interest: A preliminary version of this paper was prepared for a meeting organized by the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) and entitled Rethinking Workers' Compensation: Developing Strategies to Protect Injured/Ill Workers' Basic Human Rights and the author acknowledges having received remuneration for the preparation of that paper. The author has no conflict of interest to declare.



Workers' compensation systems are among the most generous disability insurance systems in North America, although they are also known to be potentially adversarial and may have iatrogenic effects on claimants. This article examines issues to be considered to ensure fair compensation provided in a way that respects the dignity of workers.


An overview of the literature on characteristics and effects of workers' compensation systems is followed by an analysis based on classic legal methods, including those of comparative law, complemented with interview data to examine three models of disability compensation.


The first part of the article identifies cross cutting issues to be considered in the examination of the equity of compensation systems and the protection of the dignity of claimants. These include three underpinnings of workers' compensation: the links between a “no-fault” system and the adversarial process, the appropriate use of medical and scientific evidence in the determination of compensability and the application of appropriate measures for promoting return to work. The second part looks at accident compensation in New Zealand, where compensation is available regardless of the cause of the accident, and disability insurance in the Netherlands, where compensation is available regardless of the cause of the disability. It then describes a composite of characteristics favorable to equity drawn from the thirteen workers' compensation systems in Canada.


Systems that succeed in reducing opportunities for adversarial interactions and that provide substantive protection could better promote the dignity of claimants. Am. J. Ind. Med. 55:519–536, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.