In every webinar, and on each panel that I have sat on over the last few years, including prior to the pandemic and largely thereafter, I have advocated for effective Remote Work Policies and Employment Agreements that account for the ergonomics of the employee’s workspace, as well as establish work hours and parameters that ensure limited workplace injuries, and short or long-term disability claims.
Although many organizations were quick to transition to remote work at the onset of the pandemic, many failed to implement the proper policies and procedures to ensure organized and liability-free teleworking.
As predicted, a Quebec judge has now ruled that an Air Canada call centre employee that fell down the stairs in her home while working remotely, and on her lunch break, suffered a ‘workplace injury’ and is eligible for worker’s compensation.
At trial, Air Canada argued that because the injury did not occur during work hours, and in particular, took place during the employee’s lunch break, there was a “presumption of privacy” and thus no effective control from the employer. Justice Philippe Bouvrier disagreed, and held that the employee’s injuries met the definition of a “sudden and unexpected event” that occurred during work.
Bouvrier J. recognized that many compensated injuries in Quebec have occurred in places where employers have no control - such as hotel rooms, convention halls, and parking lots. Furthermore, the employee happened to be getting lunch at that particular time because of work hours mandated by Air Canada. In other works, the employee would not have had to go downstairs to get lunch, had these hours not been set by the company. As such, Bouvrier J. held that, “there is temporal proximity, even concomitance, between the disconnection with the employer, and the fall”.
In early 2019, I discussed the ramifications of accelerating remote work, before the pandemic hit. Particularly, when dialing into a conference call on the way into work; taking a sick day, and working “just a little bit”; or logging onto the remote desktop over the weekend, employees were effectively, working remotely. What would the implications then be were the employee to injure himself or herself in those particular moments? Well, much like Air Canada’s call centre employee, employers would find themselves on the hook for WSIB or long-term and short-term disability claims.
Throughout the pandemic, as children remained at home during widespread government lockdowns, workplace injuries contemplated by my law firm included slip and falls arising from toys on the floor in the home due to children being at home, causing injuries. Another concrete example was breaches of privacy, as more individuals occupied the home office space. The only surefire way to combat these occurrences is a properly implemented Remote Work Policy.
Suffice it to say that employers interested in continuing remote work should contemplate good employment contracts and solid remote work policies. When you do not physically see your employees every day, it is especially important to make expectations clear. Employment agreements should clearly set out when employees are expected to work, what insurance requirements are needed for their remote office space(s), and what the ergonomics of the workspace are expected to be.
At Remote Law Canada, we can help. We have created a series of template agreements for employers and employees wishing to engage remote workers, independent contractors, or develop their hybrid teams. In addition, we offer template Remote Work Policies, Occupational Health and Safety checklists, and customizable contracts for employers and employees across Canada. Contact us today.