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COVID-19: Successful Workers’ Compensation Appeal

We are facing extremely challenging times not only personally but in our industry as a whole.  In the spirit of providing up-to-date, useful information, we would like to apprise you of some developments specific to a recent decision put out by the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia and the recent acceptance of a cabin crew member’s claim for COVID-19 contraction at work.

A cabin crew member applied for compensation for contracting coronavirus (COVID-19).

WorksafeBC accepted the claim under Section 136 of the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Air Canada requested a review of the decision submitting that the worker’s illness was not caused by their employment.  The company provided evidence that the risk of transmission is relatively low.  The crew member, represented by CUPE, submitted that they contracted the illness on one of the flights they were operating. All submissions were disclosed in accordance with the Review Division Practices and Procedures.

The issue under review was whether the worker’s claim for COVID-19 should be accepted.

Reasons & Decision
Based on the available information on the claim, the Board found that the evidence supports that the nature of the employment did create a significantly greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than that in the public at large and that the “work” was of causative significance in contracting the disease.

Air Canada submitted that personal protective equipment including gloves, mask and hand sanitizer were provided as of March 17, 2020, as part of the multi-layered strategy to protect crew members against coronavirus along with a study from the Journal of American Medical Association which concluded that the risk of exposure and transmission of COVID-19 in air travel is low. The crew member provided evidence that an N95 mask was not available prior to March 22, 2020, although it appears that surgical masks were provided, the evidence provided showed that masks were not mandatory.

The Board maintained it was satisfied that the nature of the crew member’s employment created a risk of contracting COVID-19 significantly greater than the ordinary exposure risk of the public at large. The Board was unable to place significant weight on the study provided by Air Canada as it suggests the risk of transmission on flights is low, as it only considered the risk of transmission from one passenger to another.  The study did not address the risk to cabin crew members who would be in contact with many passengers and move throughout the aircraft.

The Board determined that it was not necessary to determine exactly how or from whom the worker caught COVID-19 as Policy item C4-28.00 states “that a worker with a contagious disease need not name a contact and circumstantial evidence can be considered”.  The evidence supports that the worker had exposure to person(s) with COVID-19 on at least one lengthy flight.

WorksafeBC accepted the claim and found that the worker was exposed to COVID-19 at work and that the nature of the work was such that the exposure risk was significantly greater than that of the general public at the time.  WorksafeBC concluded that it is at least “likely” that the worker’s employment was of causative significance in the development of COVID-19.

This resulted in a denial of Air Canada’s request to reverse the decision and a WIN for our member. Therefore, the review board sided with the worker and Approval of the claim stands. It is always a pleasure when we are able to share good news with you.  Please continue to take care of yourselves and each other.

Click HERE to view the publicly rendered decision.

In Solidarity,

Your Component Workers’ Compensation Committee

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