Are workers entitled to WSIB benefits if they contract COVID-19 at work? The answer, in some circumstances, is yes.
The WSIB has stated that workers will be entitled to benefits for COVID-19 "arising out of and in the course of the worker's employment"; this is simply a reflection of the standard approach to adjudicating whether an injury or illness is compensable.
However, the WSIB has recognized that there are multiple ways in which a worker could be exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and, because of this, it may be hard to determine whether a worker contracted the virus in the course of their employment (and would therefore be eligible for WSIB benefits). To address this, the WSIB allows COVID-19-related claims where two conditions are met:
- the worker must have a confirmed case of COVID-19; and
- the nature of the worker's employment created a risk of contracting the disease to which the public at large is not normally exposed.
In assessing whether the worker's risk of contracting the disease was greater than the general public's risk, the WSIB may examine the worker's job tasks, work processes, the work environment, and the use of PPE, as well as:
- whether a contact source to COVID-19 within the workplace has been identified;
- whether the nature and location of employment activities placed the worker at risk for exposure to infected persons or infectious substances; and,
- whether there was an opportunity for transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace via a compatible route of transmission for the infectious substance.
The WSIB will also consider whether the incubation period (the time from the date of exposure and the onset of illness) is clinically compatible with COVID-19 that has been established to exist in the workplace, and whether a medical diagnosis has been confirmed (in cases where there is no diagnosis, the WSIB will review whether the worker's symptoms are clinically compatible with the symptoms produced by COVID-19).
The WSIB will not compensate workers who believe they were exposed to COVID-19 but have not been diagnosed or are not symptomatic. Those workers should not file a claim. However, those workers or their employers may voluntarily submit an exposure incident form, which are available on the WSIB's website. Finally, the WSIB has suspended the normal six-month time limit for workers to file claims for benefits, and for parties to object to WSIB decisions.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.