A common question for employees nearing a return to the workplace is whether they would be entitled to benefits if they acquired COVID-19 in the workplace.
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) coverage is mandatory for some industries, but optional for others. WSIB benefits are available to employees who are unable to work because of COVID-19, but only if they caught the virus in the workplace. WSIB benefits include replacement for lost income, health care expenses and some return to work plans.
Employees who are covered by group health plans may be entitled to income replacement and additional health care benefits if they cannot work because of COVID-19 – whether they acquired it at work or elsewhere – but many plans do not include short-term disability.
Neither WSIB nor Canada’s largest group benefit providers offer coverage for employees ordered to stay home in quarantine as a precaution without any symptoms.
According to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section of the WSIB web site, coverage will depend on how clear it is that the employee contracted the virus through the workplace. Coverage requires an assessment of the employee’s risks of contracting the disease through their employment, when compared to the general public and “that work significantly contributed to the person’s illness.” It noted that each claim will be evaluated individually on the facts and circumstances.
In more detailed guidelines, WSIB investigators are instructed to explore whether there was a contact source to COVID-19 in the workplace, whether the “nature and location of employment activities” exposes the worker to infected persons or substances and whether there was an opportunity for transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace. WSIB will not provide coverage for people who are symptom-free without a COVID-19 diagnosis, even when quarantined or sent home. Symptom-free workers who develop symptoms while in quarantine may be eligible for benefits.
General policy information provided by Canada’s largest insurance providers such as Manulife, Desjardins and Sun Life all indicate that employees who test positive and are unable to work are eligible for short-term disability coverage.
However, all note that employees who are not ill or show no symptoms are not disabled and have no disability claim. Similarly, if employees are able to work from home while self-quarantined, there is also no absence from work, and no disability claim.