WSIB Benefit Entitlement for Coronavirus (COVID-19) Claims
While employers chief focus has been complying with government measures and best public health practices to combat the spread of the coronavirus, it would be appropriate to take proactive steps to prepare for worker reporting of work-related exposure and WSIB benefit entitlement.
Usual statutory (Section 13 (1) and WSIB policy provisions will apply. For eligibility for benefits there must be a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment. An accident is defined in Section 2(1) of the WSIA as a wilful and intentional act, not being the act of the worker; a chance event occasioned by a physical or natural cause; and disablement arising out of and in the course of employment. Illness due to coronavirus exposure could qualify as a chance event occasioned by a natural cause. If coronavirus exposure occurred as a result of a worker’s job duties and/or while the worker was at the workplace or traveling on company business then eligibility for WSIB benefits may be possible.
Tips for employers to prepare for possible WSIB claims.
1. Awareness training for supervisory and management staff
If not already done, an employer should ensure that all supervisory and management staff are trained on coronavirus recognition and identification. Employers should provide a checklist of known physical and mental/psychological symptoms. These are readily available on public health and government websites. Be on the lookout for running noses, coughing, fever as well as enhanced states of irritability and anxiety. Document any newly recognized symptoms, discuss these with workers, and offer appropriate options (e.g. medical referrals, leave the workplace, work at home, self-isolation).
2. Document known/reported worker health conditions
Keep a record of any known or reported information from workers about their health conditions. If a worker reported any symptoms of illness these should be recorded and compared to the medically recognized symptoms of the coronavirus. Communication with all workers should occur as a health and safety measure. Remember that it could take at least 14 days for symptoms to show. If a worker has reported any symptoms take appropriate measures including having the worker go home and isolate. Provide the worker with health care information including contact with the company’s health care provider, EAP, and available/public government services.
For WSIB benefit entitlement it would need to be established that a worker contracted coronavirus at “work”.
3. Document worker job duties
Keep a record of the normal work duties of your employees and especially where individuals work in teams, and in production units/cells. If a worker is claiming coronavirus exposure a comparison to the health condition of other workers, including those with whom the affected individual is normally in contact with, would be an important measure for establishing work-related exposure. Especially if other co-workers also report coronavirus exposure.
4. Document worker travel
Keep a record of worker’s travel related to the job. This could involve travelling to work, to appointments/client meeting, and travel home. WSIB benefits related to travel can be complicated. WSIB typically covers accidents if they occurred while a worker is travelling to work (where the travel and vehicle use is condoned/controlled by the employer) or to appointments/meeting. Travel at the end of the work day is typically not covered. Out of town, province, and country travel can be even more complicated. In these cases, employers should immediately follow and document action taken to be consistent with public health/government direction.
5. Work at Home
Where the employer allows or facilitates work at home during the coronavirus period consider whether the worker’s home environment is now a “workplace” for health and safety purposes. Appropriate measures should be taken to extend the workplace health and safety program to the work at home arrangement. Document the work at home arrangement. Wherever possible have the worker provide details of how, where and when their work will be undertaken.
6. Temporary Work Disruption
Unfortunately, many employers have been forced to “lay off” staff during the coronavirus period. For those workers who experience a “temporary work disruption” document their health condition and work status at the time of the layoff. In the case of a temporary work disruption, WSIB policy provides for the possibility of loss of earning benefits if, at the time of the layoff, a worker was partially or totally disabled due to a prior compensable WSIB claim. Also, document all the workers who were laid off to defend against allegations of workplace discrimination due to disability and to establish undue hardship for a human rights defence.
7. Employee leave and emergency support, not WSIB
Canadian WCBs have issued public information stating that in most instances COVID-19 is not work-related. WCB benefit entitlement is available for work-related injuries and illnesses and will NOT apply to workers who choose to withdraw from work for preventative reasons. WCBs will however adjudicate worker claims if symptoms are contracted as part of the employment relationship.
Ensure you are aware of current statutory provisions covering employee absence for workplace and non-work related illness. This includes the provincial Employment Standards Act and any new emergency leave provision enacted specifically for coronavirus exposure. In these cases, company sick leave and/or new unpaid sick leave may apply. Further, benefits will also be available from current government support programs such as employment insurance. Be a resource to your workers to advice on benefit program eligibility other than for WSIB claims.