Rick Sokolowski reinvented himself in a new career at the age of 60, a daunting challenge made even more so by complications no one could have anticipated.
Repetitive heavy lifting in his role as an assistant foreman at a warehouse had damaged his left shoulder to the point where surgery was the only option. During physiotherapy after his surgery, he suffered a major setback when he injured his right shoulder and had to undergo yet another operation.
“Even after the first surgery, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go back to the same kind of job,” says Rick, “but the second surgery prolonged everything. I ended up being off work for close to 2½ years. I’m an older guy, and sometimes you question yourself. You think: ‘Am I even going to be able to find a job?’
“But you know what? I sat around at home long enough. I wanted to get out and work.”
Today, Rick has a job as a security guard at an Alberta hospital, a testament to his determination, hard work and unfailing resolve.
Rick is quick to credit those who travelled alongside him in his recovery and return to work—his WCB case manager, his re-employment team and his treatment provider.
“In a world where communication is becoming more and more impersonal,” says Rick, “it was so incredible to be on the receiving end of such compassion and empathy, especially at a difficult time in my life.”
“I felt that we were all working together toward a common goal.”
Rick says his case manager Lyndsey Turner was a constant source of support and encouragement and always answered his questions and concerns in a timely fashion.
“I always looked forward to our bi-weekly chats,” he says. “Lyndsey was outstanding; she showed compassion and care, and was always very professional.”
For her part, Lyndsey says Rick is what it means to be perseverant.
“Rick had a significant employment background; he had a lot of experience in different areas so he had lots to offer,” says Lyndsey. “And he had his ups and downs along the way, but he didn’t see his injury as a barrier to finding something new.
“This was just a new path he hadn’t been down yet.”
The position of scale operator was identified as an option for Rick after he went through re-employment services—including career counselling, resumé-building, job search development and computer training—but it wasn’t one he really wanted to pursue.
“Ten years ago, I probably would’ve jumped into it, but it’s a dusty job and I have a touch of asthma now, so it wasn’t ideal,” he said.
“It was important for me to take control. You know, you have all these good people who help you, but ultimately the onus is on you to set your own path.”
Rick was using his job search to find an option he really wanted to pursue. Along the way, he applied on an online posting for a security guard.
“I had always been interested in some kind of enforcement role,” he says. “And being a security guard is mostly about helping people—it’s really about customer service—and I wanted to do something to give back to the community.”
Shortly after, he was contacted for an interview, and was eventually offered the job. He worked full-time at first, but has since settled into part-time hours.
“My shoulders still bother me from time to time,” Rick says, “so I’m happy with my three shifts a week. This job is the perfect fit for me at this point in my life.”
A worker who’s been hurt on the job is often faced with thoughts that challenge them beyond their injury and recovery. What will happen to me? My career? My family? It can easily become a scary and upsetting time in their lives.
To ease these fears and to provide a positive experience to workers who are part of our system, we need to make their goals our goals. Workers are our partners and we want them to feel the same way about us.
Our purpose is to help workers get well and, whenever possible, return to their chosen career and employer. In some cases this is straight forward; in others it’s complex. In those complex cases, it means helping a worker get back to their life through rehabilitation, modified work, retraining or even discovering a new career, all while recognizing their individual needs.
Workplace injuries are as unique as those who experience them, and we need to provide a service that is flexible and well suited for each and every person. A worker’s involvement is critical. It’s their life, their injury, their recovery and their family. We need them to ask questions, share information and feel empowered to drive their own success, with our help.
There are so many opportunities for workers to lend their voice, particularly in their care plan. Building these plans together ensures that a worker’s recovery and return-to-work goals are accurately reflected. If modified work while recovering is an option, workers know best how to change their day-to-day tasks in a way that feels meaningful. If we’re helping someone transition to a new job, our goal is for it to always be one they can do and that will help maximize their potential. No one is better suited to tell us if we’re on the right track than the worker. It’s about getting to know each other and building a positive working relationship.
Workplace injuries are unexpected; but when we work as a team, workers can feel confident about knowing what lies ahead, because they have been directly involved in building their own plan.
It’s understandable that even when we’re working together, disagreements can happen. When this happens, we’re here to do everything we can to reach resolution.
If we are unable to resolve issues through discussions at the supervisor or manager level, workers have access to additional resolution channels, including services that can offer support in the decision review process:
The Office of the Appeals Advisor* (OAA) provided independent advice, assistance and advocacy for workers seeking to resolve issues on their claims. Appeals advisors work with our Customer Service teams to try to resolve issues directly with the decision maker. If they are unable to resolve an issue, they help workers prepare a request for review for the Dispute Resolution and Decision Review Body and/or bring an appeal forward to the Appeals Commission.
*This service moved to the Government of Alberta’s Fair Practices Office on December 1, 2018. The Fair Practices Office – Worker Appeals Advisor Branch provides independent advice, assistance and advocacy services for injured workers and their dependants. There is no charge for their services.
The Dispute Resolution and Decision Review Body (DRDRB) helps workers and employers who request a formal review of a decision. Resolution specialists review the decision, discuss the issues raised and identify if there is new information that should be considered. If the decision is incorrect, resolution specialists work with Customer Service or Employer Account Services to correct it.
The external Appeals Commission for Alberta workers’ compensation is available to workers and employers who disagree with a decision made by the DRDRB and would like to appeal it.
*A claim may have more than one request for review