Understanding when COVID-19 is a Reportable and Compensable Claim and Anticipated Changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code
As many companies tell their employees to work from home, Mount Royal and SAIT move to online classes and Alberta’s Premier contemplates closing all Alberta schools for 13 weeks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”), we are likely to see many changes in the coming days as employers and the government work towards preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Alberta’s Worker’s Compensation Board (“WCB-Alberta”) wants to remind employers that COVID-19 could be a reportable and compensable claim depending on the nature of employment. In light of the developing situation, WCB-Alberta has issued a factsheet, giving direction to employers on when an employer should be reporting a case of COVID-19 to WCB-Alberta.
When Should You Report a Case of COVID-19 to WCB-Alberta?
An employee is entitled to compensation if they contract COVID-19 as a direct result of their employment, if the following conditions are met:
- The nature of employment involves sufficient exposure to the source of infection, AND
- The nature of the employment is shown to be the cause of the condition, OR
- The nature of the employment creates a greater risk of exposure for the employee.
If the above special criteria are not met, there is no need to report a claim to WCB-Alberta. An example of an employee who is at greater risk than the general public of contracting the virus while at work, is an acute care hospital worker who treats COVID-19 patients. However, WCB-Alberta specifically provides that if a cafeteria worker at a hospital or a grocery store clerk contract COVID-19, they are not at greater risk than the general public of contracting the virus, and the employer does not have to report to WCB-Alberta.
What is the scope of my obligation to report to WCB-Alberta?
- Employers do not have to report to WCB-Alberta where a worker has caught COVID-19 from a co-worker.
- Employers who believe their staff are at greater risk, do not need to report all exposures, they only need to report lost-time claims. If workers are exposed to the virus, but do not develop any symptoms, the incident should be recorded, but there is no need to report to WCB-Alberta.
- If an employer whose staff is at greater risk than the general public of exposure at work and sends home their employees because of the high risk exposure, not because of an illness, this does not need to be reported to WCB-Alberta. If your workers are not ill, there is no claim.
- Should a worker contract COVID-19 due to the greater risk at work, any treatment complications are also considered work-related, and should be reported.
- WCB-Alberta will accept COVID-19 claims where a worker is demonstrating symptoms but there is no medical report confirming the worker has COVID-19.
Final takeaways for employers
- Most instances of COVID-19 are not work-related and do not need to be reported to WCB-Alberta. However, there are a few exceptions as noted above (e.g. workers at an acute care hospital has patients coming in for treatment of COVID-19. They are at a greater risk than the general public of contracting the disease).
- Should a worker believe they have contracted COVID-19, employers should urge their workers to call Health link at 811.
- If a worker is in self-isolation and their symptoms get worse and they seek medical treatment, employers should request the reporting be forwarded to WCB-Alberta.
Once a claim is submitted, WCB-Alberta will undertake to determine if the exposure to COVID-19 arose out of employment and was caused by an employment hazard. If the specific conditions are met, WCB-Alberta will cover medical aid cost and any time lost due to the condition. For more information visit the WCB-Alberta website.
Alberta Considering Providing Paid Job-Protected Leave to Cover Self-Isolation Periods
As employers and businesses seek to reduce and prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Alberta Government is contemplating making changes to the personal and family responsibility leave. The changes will allow employees who are required to self-isolate due to COVID-19, or who have to care for someone affected by COVID-19, to take 14 days of paid job-protected leave in order to cover the self-isolation period that has been recommended by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health. Notably the proposed change that the leave be “paid” is a significant change for employers especially in this pandemic with its economic impact; and, we are not yet clear on whether the Government is contemplating that employers will be responsible to pay the employees during the leave or whether it is intended that the Federal employment insurance be the reason the leave is “paid.” Currently employees are allowed 5 days of unpaid job-protected leave.
It is anticipated that the change will not require employees to produce a doctor’s note, nor will the employees have had to work for an employer for 90 days to qualify for such leave.
It is important to note that these changes are still to be determined and the Alberta Government has announced it will provide details of how these changes will be administered and implemented in the coming days. As the situation develops and more information becomes available, our Labour & Employment group will keep employers updated and informed on this matter.
If you have any questions about reporting a claim to WCB-Alberta or how employers should be adapting to these changes, please contact one of the members of our Labour & Employment Group.