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A worker looks out the window at the Vigi Mount Royal seniors residence on May 1, 2020 in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Roughly 13,000 health care workers in Canada have filed workplace injury claims tied to the coronavirus, representing the majority of COVID-19-related submissions across the country.

Data from provincial and territorial workers compensation boards show about 17,000 workers in Canada have filed claims for lost wages because of COVID-19. Health care and social-assistance employees account for 75 per cent of total claims, with the majority of those coming from Quebec and Ontario.

While health care workers represent the largest group of claimants, Alberta is an exception, with the bulk of its COVID-19 workers compensation submissions stemming from the meat-processing industry. The two largest single-site outbreaks in Canada were at slaughterhouses in that province.

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The statistics provide a glimpse of how many health care employees have missed work after contracting COVID-19 on the job, with claimants ranging from nurses and orderlies in hospitals to aides in long-term care facilities. The data also show women are more likely to be infected while working compared with men. The picture, however, is incomplete, as some employers use private insurers rather than provincial workers compensation systems.

Maya Roy, chief executive officer of YWCA Canada, said the workplace injury figures reflect Canada’s failure to value – and protect – front-line health care employees, particularly in facilities such as nursing homes.

“We knew this was coming,” Ms. Roy said. “[In] many of the long-term care homes where they are having outbreaks, there have been complaints for years, either around health and safety, but also for the working conditions for the employees.”

Workers compensation boards are expected to be able to handle the crush of claims related to COVID-19 because these filings are being offset by dropping submissions in sectors where employees are working from home or were laid off.

Quebeckers collectively filed 9,056 workplace injury claims related to COVID-19 with the province’s Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, or CNESST, as of July 5. Of those, 8,255, or 91 per cent, stem from the health care and social-assistance sector, according to figures provided by spokeswoman Audréane Lafrenière.

CNESST approved 97 per cent of claims in that category and 72 per cent of all other submissions, Ms. Lafrenière said. Women account for 77 per cent of all COVID-19 claimants, she said.

People in Ontario who work in nursing and residential care facilities, hospitals and ambulatory care collectively submitted 3,730 COVID-19 claims to the province’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. This represents 71 per cent of the 5,210 COVID-19 claims filed with WSIB as of July 3, according to data it posts online. Health care claimants make up roughly 73 per cent of WSIB’s accepted and pending cases.

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In comparison, health care workers in Ontario filed an average of about 7,100 claims per year from 2009-2018 for all types of injuries, according to WSIB data. In 2018, the most recent data available, there were just 466 claims among health care workers for infectious diseases and respiratory diseases for the entire year.

Women accounted for about 71 per cent of all COVID-19-related claims with WSIB, and 85 per cent of the claims from the health care industry as of July 3, WSIB spokeswoman Christine Arnott said.

“Women, especially racialized and newcomer women, are being disproportionately hit by COVID because they tend to work in health care and also in the service industry,” the YWCA’s Ms. Roy said.

More than 93,000 people in Quebec and Ontario have been infected by the coronavirus, which created a crisis in their long-term care facilities.

Alberta is third for both COVID-19 cases and workplace injury claims related to the respiratory illness. The Western province, however, bucks the health care trend when it comes to lost-time requests.

Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta received 1,588 COVID-19 claims by July 2, and 918 of those came from the meat-processing industry. By way of comparison, people with jobs related to health care submitted 351 claims, translating to 22 per cent of Alberta’s WCB coronavirus claims. (Alberta Health counted 1,653 employees at three meat-packing plants who contracted COVID-19 as of June 19, and 774 people who identified themselves as health care workers had been infected as of July 7.)

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Generally, workers compensation boards are evaluating claims case-by-case, requiring a positive COVID-19 test and evidence the illness was contracted on the job site. The value of COVID-19-related claims has so far been smaller than for other injuries, in part because the illness generally lasts just two weeks.

Income replacement payouts for COVID-19 injuries in Quebec are, on average, less than $2,000, compared with an average of $8,500 a claim over the past two years, according to that province’s board. Roughly 75 per cent of COVID-19-related payouts end in 14 days or less, the agency said.

Zeinab Yousif, a labour and employment lawyer at Miller Thomson LLP in Toronto, expects that workers compensation boards will be able to manage the financial pressure from COVID-19.

“A lot of employers have sort of wound down their operations and so there are not the regular claims that you would usually see,” she said. “They will be able to shift their resources toward dealing with these cases.”

Provincial and territorial boards, which administer insurance plans funded by employers, replace wages when an employee is injured and, in some cases, provide cash for health-related expenses such as physiotherapy. Workers compensation rules and what is covered vary from province to province.

Alberta, for example, covers 90 per cent of an injured employee’s wages, while Ontario’s organization estimates lost-time coverage clocks in at around 85 per cent.

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Immigrants and migrant workers are at elevated risks of being infected at work, Hermie Abraham, an employment lawyer at Toronto’s Advocation Professional Corp., said after reviewing some of the workers compensation information.

“People in certain types of work – precarious work, whether it is home-care workers or migrant farmers or people who are working in meat-packing – they are being more disproportionately affected by this disease and getting COVID from the workplace,” she said.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

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