Working in a Pandemic: Lessons From BC’s Labour Tribunals

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The COVD-19 pandemic has created a host of uncertainties around employment, with many people unsure how their jobs will change throughout the course of the pandemic, how they will remain safe while working in a pandemic, and how stable their employment is due to the pandemic. Tribunals in British Columbia have dealt with many COVID-19 related disputes that have arisen since the onset of COVID-19. One such tribunal is the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT), an appellate body for decisions arising from WorkSafeBC—British Columbia’s main workers’ compensation body.[1]

In a December 2020 decision, WCAT dealt with a situation where an employee suffered severe injuries in 2014 that left him with permanent injuries and conditions.[2] As a result, the employee required personal care, supplemented by a personal care allowance. In March 2020, he requested that the Workers’ Compensation Board provide additional expenses to pay for increased costs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, including costs related to isolating. The Workers’ Compensation Board rejected these requests on the basis that the pandemic was not related to the injuries that the employee had suffered at work, and he appealed that decision. The WCAT allowed the appeal, and declared that the employee was in fact entitled to have his request for additional expenses granted. However, the WCAT also noted: “I came to the aforementioned conclusions to take into consideration the immediate effects and uncertainty in March and April 2020, which were the early stages of the pandemic. This decision does not bind the Board in any way beyond these dates or make a finding that the worker is entitled to increased care or allowances on a permanent basis”.[3]

In a January 2021 WCAT decision, a pharmacy assistant working in a supermarket contracted COVID-19, and maintained that she contracted the virus through exposure to it in the workplace.[4] The pharmacy assistant claimed for benefits through WorkSafeBC and was awarded “temporary wage loss benefits”. The employer appealed this decision on the basis that there was no evidence that the pharmacy assistant had contracted COVID-19 as a result of work, and that WorkSafeBC had not correctly applied policies. In this case, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal found that “the worker’s COVID-19 was due to the nature of her employment”, and thus that she was entitled to receive the benefits.[5]

Clearly, the pandemic poses many uncertainties regarding employment. While labour tribunals in BC, such as the WCAT, may extend benefits to employees during the pandemic, what is less clear is how these benefits will be approached in the upcoming months as the pandemic continues to unfurl, or in BC’s post-pandemic employment landscape.

 

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch Student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.


[1] Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal, “About WCAT”, WCAT (accessed 8 March 2021), online: <https://www.wcat.bc.ca/home/about/>.

[2]A2001938(Re), 2020 CanLII 110057 (BC WCAT).

[3] Ibid.

[4]A2001718(Re), 2021 CanLII 10691 (BA WCAT).

[5] Ibid.