As the pandemic winds down, employers can expect to see an increase in disability claims related to long-haul coronavirus infections and compensation claims resulting from injuries incurred while working remotely, says Joshua Goldberg, a Toronto-based personal injury lawyer.
The most common long-haul coronavirus symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog and muscle and joint pain. As these symptoms linger, employees will have difficulty working regular shifts, especially if they have to commute to and from work. “A lot of people believe they’re still recovering from the initial onset of the coronavirus and aren’t even aware they have long-term disabilities,” says Goldberg. “But in 2023, they’ll start dropping like flies.”
The magnitude of the potential problem becomes apparent on examining the latest statistics from Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, says Carissa Tanzola, a partner at Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP. “The WSIB has allowed 45,823 claims related to the coronavirus, some of them for [long-haul coronavirus infections]. Just 3,021 claims have been denied.”
According to Goldberg, employers may be able to mitigate the impact of long-haul coronavirus by accommodating employees with remote work. “Working around workers’ disabilities will definitely lead to fewer LTD claims and fewer increases in insurance premiums.”
For their part, home office injury claims come with a unique set of complications, says Tanzola. “We’re seeing a lot of these cases, but the law hasn’t yet caught up to the times. . . . What the WSIB has said is these cases will turn on whether the employee suffered the injury in the course of his or her regular duties.”
Determining whether the injury occurred in that way, however, can be difficult. So far, only one home-injury case has been reported, involving an Air Canada employee in Quebec, who injured herself as she went downstairs for her lunch break. Air Canada argued it wasn’t a workplace injury because the employee was “no longer in her professional sphere, but rather in her personal sphere.”
However, Quebec’s Commission des normes de la santé et de la sécurité de travail decided the only reason the woman was on the staircase was because she was following a work schedule imposed by Air Canada. Other cases may not be as clear.
“Making coffee at home while working remotely and suffering a small burn from a spill may not qualify as a workplace injury, but being injured as a result of an electrical shock from a computer supplied by the employer might very well justify a claim,” says Goldberg.
Jurisdictional problems — such as when an employee is working remotely outside the province where the employer is situated — can also complicate matters.
“So the question is, ‘Where do you register when you have workers across Canada?’” says Tanzola. “In some cases, employers may have to pay premiums in the province where the employee is working. . . . Employers should think about providing help with the home office, like ensuring employees have the right ergonomic setup.”