COVID-19 and WCB Claims
As COVID-19 continues to hold us in its grasp and businesses scramble to figure out how to survive the long term impact of the pandemic, new workers’ compensation issues are emerging. While essential businesses and services remain open, there will undoubtedly be work-related incidents and accidents and for the most part, those workers’ compensation claims will be processed as they always have been. However, the novel coronavirus is redefining guidelines as they relate to acceptable occupational disease claims, at least for now.
Prior to this pandemic, acceptable Workers’ Compensation (WCB) claims were primarily limited to front line health care or emergency response workers who contracted a communicable disease, with few exceptions being made in individual circumstances. When the provincial and federal governments mandated the closure of non-essential businesses and ordered everyone to stay at home the goal was to stop the spread of the virus and control the pandemic. Workers required to keep essential businesses or services open put themselves at greater risk of contracting the virus through occupational exposure. As a result, an uptick in the incidence of work-related transmission of COVID-19 is undeniable.
Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan have already made modifications to their policies that acknowledge a broader definition of at-risk workers to include anyone still employed in essential services including store clerks, delivery drivers, pharmacists and food/medical supply chain factory workers. Other jurisdictions are likely to follow.
The Canadian Government has introduced programs to provide income replacement benefits, such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) however, these programs do not compensate for the medical costs and long term effects associated with some cases of COVID-19 . The Canadian government has recognized that this will need to be addressed but no formal plan is in place yet. An acceptable work-related case of COVID-19 would entitle a worker to the full extent of WCB benefits and services they may need.
As with any work-related injury or illness, COVID-19 claims will be adjudicated case by case, based on its own merit in terms of compliance with current WCB legislation and regulations. The broadening of the definition of industries and occupations at high risk suggests that the number of WCB claims related to COVID-19 will increase and the cost of those claims could be substantial, especially if there is long term sequelae or death that results from contracting the virus.
So what should you do if you are working and you develop COVID-19 or one of your employees gets diagnosed with COVID019?
Even with the expanded definition of essential services and front line workers, most instances of COVID-19 are not work-related. For most WCB jurisdictions, the following conditions will still be used to determine entitlement to compensation:
- Did exposure to the disease arise out of the course of employment and,
- Was the exposure caused by an employment hazard; in this case, it’s the workplace exposure to the virus that is considered the hazard. More specifically,
- The nature of employment must involve sufficient exposure to a source of infection and
- The nature of employment is shown to be the cause of the condition or,
- The nature of employment creates a greater risk of exposure for the worker
For example, the WCB Alberta cites this criteria:
A claim is likely to be accepted if a worker contracts the illness and is performing what the province deems to be an “essential service” that puts them in regular contact with the general public.
A worker will also likely be covered in the event of a widespread outbreak at their place of work.
Based on the above conditions, if you feel the exposure to COVID-19 occurred at work, then a WCB claim should be initiated. Filing a claim does not guarantee acceptance but it does give the WCB the ability to provide fair adjudication and to provide necessary benefits and services to entitled workers as quickly as possible.
Workers and employers can help by providing vital information that will assist the WCB with their entitlement decisions, such as:
- Notify the WCB by filing a claim
- Diarize your onset of symptoms
- Document your possible exposure with anyone you have been in contact with; including at work, at home, and any stores, appointments, or outings.
- Document interactions other members of your household may have had; who went to the store and when, what stores did they go to, did they get gas, did they go to a pharmacy, doctor or hospital, did they go for a walk or exercise in a public area or trail, are they working?
- Notify the WCB by filing a claim
- Document the worker’s onset of symptoms
- Record the worker’s work schedule, make note of where they worked, who they worked with, and their contact with patients, clients, or customers.
- Attempt to track or trace the worker’s exposure beyond the workplace
At this time, the full impact of this pandemic on employers is still unknown but what continues to be put at the forefront is the protection and support of the workforce. In the short term, employers may bear the brunt of increased WCB claims to ensure that workers’ needs are met.
What we do know is that it is going to take some time to unravel and understand how this pandemic has affected employers. Maintaining detailed records for every WCB claim incurred could provide valuable information to be used later in support of an argument for premium reductions or considerations.
Thankfully, claims occurring during this time will not affect employer premiums immediately so there will be the opportunity to address the inequities and explore measures to relieve any unreasonable financial burden placed on employers.
Further information about work-related COVID-19 claims can be found as follows:
Alberta: Click here
British Columbia: Click here
Manitoba: Click here
Saskatchewan: Click here
Canada: Click here
As always, we are available to answer your questions or address your concerns to the best of our ability. You can reach us directly at [email protected], [email protected], by phone, at 1-844-377-9545 or you can connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.