Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 357–367 | Cite as

Barriers to Return-to-Work for Linguistic Minorities in Ontario: An Analysis of Narratives from Appeal Decisions



Purpose Previous research has shown that linguistic minorities have inferior workers’ compensation experiences and outcomes; however little information exists on the structural barriers they face in relation to return-to-work (RTW). We sought to address this gap by describing barriers to RTW for linguistic minorities in Ontario using narratives from appeal decisions. Methods We examined decisions by the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal. We searched the full text of decisions rendered between October 1, 2010 and September 30, 2011 for the keyword “English”. A total of 378 decisions were generated. After eliminating decisions that did not involve linguistic minorities we retained half (189) for analysis. We summarized the issues around language for each decision and identified broad themes across decisions. Results We found that linguistic minorities’ limitations with regards to communication and power left them vulnerable to abuse, incomprehension and misperception by employers, care providers and adjudicators. In addition, specific RTW policies and practices failed to properly consider or mitigate their lack of English proficiency. These interpersonal and structural barriers negatively impacted linguistic minorities’ eligibility to benefits and services and the appropriateness thereof, as well as their eventual return to work. Conclusions Our research highlights the need to move beyond efforts to improve the linguistic competence of compensation boards to target the structural factors that impede equal access at every stage of the process.


Language Workers’ compensation Return to work Disparities 



This study was funded by Research Grants from McMaster University’s School of Labour Studies and McMaster University Arts Research Board. The author wishes to thank Alicia Shaw for her assistance with researching the appeal decisions and Joel Schwartz for his helpful comments on this manuscript.

Conflict of interest

Author Stephanie Premji declares that she has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Health, Aging and Society, School of Labour StudiesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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