AFTER A YEAR OF FIGHTING SHE WON. An Air Canada flight attendant will get the workers’ compensation benefits her employer said she didn’t deserve. A new law in B.C. will make similar fights unnecessary.
The worker flew on a series of international flights between March 22 and March 30, 2020, when most of Canada and the world was going into our first COVID-19 lockdown. She began to feel unwell on March 28 and tested positive for the virus on April 4.
She applied to WorkSafeBC for workers compensation 25 days later, on April 29, 2020.
Flights into danger
She told the board she had learned from B.C.’s Centres for Disease Control that several passengers on the flights she worked tested positive for the virus. Two of her colleagues were also infected. She also told the board that she was “close to these coworkers and took her breaks with them.”
She also testified that the employer had not provided adequate PPE or clear guidance on applying anti-covid measures on the flights. The board rejected the employer’s attempt to discredit her testimony.
The board granted her claim. Air Canada challenged the ruling. A board review officer upheld the ruling on January 8—after a more than an eight-month wait. The officer wrote:
I find that the worker was exposed to COVID-19 at work and that the nature of her work was such that her exposure risk was significantly greater than that of the general public at the time. I conclude that it is at least as likely as not that the worker’s employment was of causative significance in the development of her COVID-19
Thousands of Canadians infected with COVID-19 have filed workers’ compensation claims in the belief their “employment was of causative significance in the development of her COVID-19.” The B.C. ruling is one of a very few that have been heard—never mind granted.
A CBC report in November noted that over 1,400 workers comp claims in Ontario related to COVID-19 had been disallowed by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
New law supports workers’ claims
Rulings to support workers' COVID-19 claims will become close to automatic in B.C. due to an August 2020 change to the workers’ compensation law that extends “presumptive coverage” to COVID-19 infection. (Presumptive coverage is a policy where specified injuries or diseases are presumed to be work-related in specified workplaces and/or occupations, free of any need to prove it.)
The extension of presumptive coverage to COVID-19 cases means that workers don’t have to prove they caught the virus on the job if they work in an industry deemed high risk. Workers in the airline industry, due to their frequent contact with passengers and regular international travel, are considered at high risk of catching the coronavirus.
B.C. is the only province in Canada to introduce presumptive coverage for COVID-19, so far
Everywhere else, workers still have to prove the unprovable. They have to prove that they contracted the virus on the job—and nowhere else.
Presumptive coverage needed everywhere
The CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) wants presumptive coverage for COVID-19 cases to be adopted across the country. “We’d definitely like to see the same system that British Columbia has adopted where it’s just recognized—period,” Wesley Lesosky, president of CUPE’s airline division, told CBC.
Union federations, injured workers’ advocates, and legal organizations have been urging governments to make it easier for workers to access compensation since early on in the pandemic.
Last April, a coalition of 26 Ontario organizations, including the Ontario Federation of Labour, called for the adoption of presumptive coverage for COVID-19 in a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Labour. The letter argued that health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers with high levels of contact with the public should be given automatic coverage if they’re diagnosed with COVID-19.
“These workers are risking their health and for some, their lives, by carrying out their work responsibilities,” noted the letter. “To do this, they must be confident that if they become sick from COVID-19 or must be isolated due to occupational exposure to this virus, they will have the full protection of the workers’ compensation system.”
The Ford government has yet to reply to the letter
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