Remote work can have its perks, but when someone is injured in their home during the workday, providing proof to get compensation can be more challenging than if the injury happened on company premises.
“There are several issues when we're talking about injuries that occur while people are outside the workplace," says Brittany Taylor, a partner at Rudner Law. "The first thing, obviously from a health and safety perspective for the employer, is how do they control a space that they have no access to versus a traditional in-person setting,”
“The second is did the injury actually happen in the course of employment because that's what you need to prove in order to be eligible for benefits,” Taylor explained in a phone interview with Yahoo Finance Canada.
Remote workplace injuries were front and centre in Dec. 2021 when an Air Canada employee in Quebec was injured when she fell down the stairs of her home minutes after logging off for her lunch break. The provincial tribunal ruled the injury was indeed work related and that she was entitled to compensation.
The decision captured the attention of companies and employment lawyers because, to the extent of Taylor’s knowledge, it was the first ruling on compensation in a remote work setting and could influence future rulings about remote work injuries.
“When you read the decision, it does feel like they're doing everything they can to make sure that this employee is entitled to benefits just because of the circumstances. I think it would have been different if this was 7pm at night, she's not working and she slipped on a toy,” Taylor says.
The home as an extension of the office
Most provincial workplace safety boards recognize that working from home is an extension of the workplace and that the same general rules apply. However, there can be some variation in the specific frameworks including the extent of the employers’ responsibilities to ensure a safe work environment at home.
“People have the same rights and responsibilities in the event of a workplace injury or illness, whether they are working from home, offsite or in their regular workplace. This applies to both employees and employers,” says Rachel dePass, a spokesperson for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) in Ontario, in a statement.
But WSIB recognizes not all injuries during regular work hours are work-related.
“If an injury is clearly not work-related – for example, someone getting hurt while taking out the garbage or doing laundry – a report does not need to be submitted,” dePass says.
The most important thing is for employees to be truthful and provide as much detail as possible about what occurredBrittany Taylor, partner at Rudner Law
Most provincial workplace safety boards don’t currently track work from home injuries. Though, WSIB says its data show remote work hasn’t had a significant impact on the types of claims most commonly reported.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Workers’ Compensation Board in Alberta said, anecdotally, it has fielded more questions from employers over the past few years about remote work coverage and is planning to update its policy framework to add more clarity about remote work.
Whether or not an employer should revamp existing policies depends on how long the organization has had remote work policies, and how much control it wants to have over home offices, Taylor says.
She says she’s worked with some employers that required photos or videos of home workstations to be submitted for approval.
Update to workplace policies not always needed
“If your policy doesn't contemplate remote work at all… it’s worth updating your health and safety policy to make it clear to employees what your expectations are," she says. "So the onus does shift to the employee to take steps to make sure they're safe."
The end goal is ultimately the same for all involved, which is fewer injuries and less time lost to injury recovery.
For employees who are injured while at home, Taylor advises them to tell their employer immediately and that, ideally, there would already be a policy framework in place. Each party can then submit claims to the workplace safety board, if needed, within a certain timeframe.
Typically, it's up to provincial safety boards, not the employer, to determine if the employee is entitled to compensation.
“The most important thing is for employees to be truthful and provide as much detail as possible about what occurred,” Taylor says.
“If there is other evidence that might be helpful beyond the employee's own statement, such as photographs of the scene, I would suggest that the employee collect it.”
Michelle Zadikian is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @m_zadikian.