Coronavirus and Workers Compensation

Here at Case Management Canada we have had enquiries from clients wondering if, and how, the current worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 (commonly referred to as coronovirus) may impact them in the context of the workers compensation system.

We can advise that, should one of your employees contract COVID-19 on the job, there is a very good chance that WCB would find that it is an acceptable compensable workplace accident. If it can be reasonably proven that the worker contracted COVID-19 from interaction with a fellow employee, a client, a supplier, or even a member of the public at large (while they were at work) then it would most likely meet the definition of an accident under the Workers Compensation Act. This means that the effects of COVID-19 upon the employee would likely be fully covered by WCB.

The costs of the claim would be even more difficult to contain than a “normal” injury claim insofar as the employer’s ability to accommodate the worker in modified duties may be severely impaired to due to the need for the worker to be quarantined for 14 days. We are recommending that our clients start to think about creative ways in which they could accommodate workers at home.

The only feasible way in which an employer could viably argue against such a claim being accepted by WCB would be if it could be reasonably proven that the employee contracted COVID-19 from a source away from the workplace. At this point, in Canada there have been very few instances where COVID-19 has been spread through the community at large but this is a quickly evolving situation. Even if the employer operates in a community where there have been instances of community driven COVID-19 exposure, our experience is that WCB will place the onus on the employer to prove that it wasn’t contracted by the employee at work (or from work).

One scenario that will prove to be interesting will be (and it almost certainly will occur eventually) where a worker has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and has to be quarantined (that is, where the worker has not yet been diagnosed with COVID-19). In that situation one could argue that there has been no compensable injury under the WC Act (since there is no confirmed “injury”). However, this would definitely not be an open and shut case by any means.

For all of these reasons, employers should take every precaution they can to protect their employees from potential exposure to COVID-19.

• Todd Sauve – March 11, 2020