According to a recent CBC news investigation, at least 26,000 workers across Canada have filed workers’ compensation claims due to COVID-19. As the report highlights, these statistics present a misleading picture of what’s actually happening in the workplace.
- These statistics don’t count workplaces where workers may be discouraged from making a claim
- Many, particularly newcomers, are not aware that workers’ compensation exists or is available to them for this kind of illness
- Ontario’s coverage cuts out whole swaths of industries that include many front-line workers
In Ontario, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) data to Nov. 20 shows 7,459 claims have been submitted, and 1,469 denied. The highest number of claims come from health care and agricultural workers, among the province’s key essential service providers. Yet “disallowed claims — along with the fact that the WSIB pays only 85 per cent of a worker’s full salary — don’t fit with declarations that these workers are “heroes” keeping the economy running during a pandemic…”
Even front-line workers face challenges proving they got COVID-19 at work
Jennifer Collins is one of more than 300 healthcare workers whose claims have been denied. The nurse, working without adequate personal protective equipment at a Bobcaygeon nursing home where a major COVID-19 outbreak in spring killed 29 residents, got sick from the disease in March and is still suffering its physical impacts. Declared ineligible for compensation by the WSIB due to lack of medical documentation, like others denied by the workers’ compensation system she has been forced to turn to publicly funded programs, in this case the Canada emergency response benefits.
As Jeffrey Freedman’s experience illustrates, having a COVID-19 claim accepted by the Board may not be the end of the story. In a system where higher claims costs translate into higher premiums for employers, there is an incentive for employers to appeal allowed claims. When they do, injured workers are left struggling on two fronts – recovering from COVID and fighting bosses over whether they actually got sick at work.
Singh, Inayat & Dave Seglins, Andreas Wesley. 2020 Nov. 23. “Workplace compensation claims reflect toll COVID-19 has taken on Canada’s workers.” CBC News
Ontario Federation of Labour. 2020 Nov. 16. Open Letter: A Renewed Call For Decisive Action By Ontario’s Workers’ Compensation System To Support Workers Affected By The COVID-19 Pandemic.
Mojtehedzadeh, Sara. 2020 Oct. 11. “Public health won’t tell us which employers have COVID-19 outbreaks. But we obtained WSIB data to help paint a picture.” Toronto Star
Workers’ Health and Safety Centre. 2020 Sep. 24. “COVID-19 rates higher among racialized and low wage workers.” WHSC News