News publications have officially declared the “death of the office”, as most of us adjust to the realities of working from home. While working from home, often referred to as telework or telecommuting, had been steadily increasing in recent years, the amount of people working from home has obviously exploded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With unprecedented numbers of employees working from somewhere other than their employer’s physical premises, an important question arises: if you are injured while working at home, is that injury covered by workers’ compensation?
Surprisingly, given how common telework has become, the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has not published a formal policy addressing injuries that arise while working at home. However, WSIB’s general law and policy, as well as its few cases adjudicating claims for telework injuries, confirm that an injury sustained while working at home will be treated like any other injury—all the circumstances will be considered to determine if the injury is work-related.
Ontario’s workers’ compensation legislation, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, only allows for compensation for accidents that occur on an employer’s premises. However, that term is defined very broadly, as “ the building, plant, or location in which the worker is entitled to be…” To be eligible for compensation, an accident must also have occurred while the worker was performing an act incidental to her work or employment obligations.
The Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT) has adjudicated very few claims for injuries sustained during telework. However, in the few cases it has decided, it has effectively taken for granted that a telework injury is not excluded from the workers’ compensation regime.
The WSIAT has granted compensation to workers who were injured in their home offices. For example, in 2019 ONWSIAT 1873, a customer service worker performed her job in her home office and developed carpal tunnel syndrome due to an increased workload. The WSIAT found that the claim had the necessary five points to be eligible for compensation: “an employer, a worker, personal work-related injury, proof of accident, and compatibility of diagnosis to accident history.”
This is similar to the approach taken by workers’ compensation boards in other jurisdictions. Some, like WorkSafeNB in New Brunswick, and the Workers’ Compensation Board – Alberta, have published policies or fact sheets specifically addressing when a telework injury will be considered eligible for benefits.
While telework injuries clearly can be eligible for workers’ compensation, the fact that your injury occurred while working from home may, in some cases, make it more difficult to establish that the injury is work-related. There are a wide variety of situations that are on the borderline between work and personal activities. That line between your work and personal life is likely even harder to define when you are working at home.
The Workers Compensation Appeals Tribunal of British Columbia commented on this difficulty in a 2010 decision:
…work activities and home life do not always occur in a clearly defined and distinct sequence. It might be that a worker is at one moment in the course of employment while in the home office, but at another moment in the role of homeowner when responding to a neighbor knocking at the front door. It is where an injury occurs in the transition between work life and personal life that coverage under the Act may be at its most complex.
So, while the fact that your injury occurred while working from home does not, in itself, disqualify you from workers’ compensation coverage, you may face added challenges in your claim, particularly if the injury occurred somewhere in that “transition” between your work life and your personal life. If you have such a borderline claim, you may want to receive advice and assistance from an employment lawyer.
[This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, which cannot be given without an assessment of your individual circumstances.]