How to Navigate Employee Injuries in a Hybrid Workplace
With the rise of the hybrid workforce, how to navigate the responsibilities of parties to prevent, report, and compensate for employee injuries becomes an important question. The duties of the employer and employee in the event of a workplace injury or illness extend to remote workplaces. However, not every injury that happens from home is work-related. Understanding the laws, creating policies to manage injury claims, and ultimately, preventing injuries in the first place, is critical for any hybrid organization.
Are Employees Entitled to Compensation for Injuries at Home?
Employees who are injured while working from home may be entitled to workers’ compensation. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) applies three criteria to assess if an injury took place during the course of employment: place, time, and activity. While the laws revolving around injuries in remote workplaces are still evolving, recent legal decisions in other provinces can provide an example of how claims may unfold.
In the Quebec case of Air Canada vs. Gentile-Patti, a telephone customer service agent for Air Canada was working from home due to the pandemic when she fell down her stairs during her lunch break. Her employer stated that her injury was not work-related due to the fall occurring in her home when she was not working. However, the Quebec Administrative Labour Tribunal ruled that the employee was entitled to compensation. They determined that the employee was at home during that time because it was required by the employer and that the employee’s schedule, which included taking breaks, was a feature of the way the work was organized.
The decision of whether an injury is work-related will depend on the unique circumstances of the claim. WSIB states that activity will be a primary factor in assessing claims, and clear non-work-related activities, such as taking out the garbage or doing laundry, are non-eligible. While some aspects of an employee’s home workplace will be out of the scope of employers, employers can do their due diligence to meet their responsibilities for health and safety.
What Are Employers Responsible for in the Remote Workplace?
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), employers are legally obligated to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers. They are also obligated to keep equipment in good condition, provide information, instruction, and supervision, and communicate all hazards in the workplace. Taking measures to fulfill these obligations may look different in a remote workplace and will require cooperation with employees to maintain appropriate health and safety standards.
In the workplace, employers with more than five workers are responsible for conducting regular workplace health and safety inspections, according to OHSA subsections 8(6) and 9(26). There is currently no such requirement for home workplaces in Ontario.
However, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) suggests a written agreement is created between employer and employee to outline responsibility for health and safety issues and injury compensation. Health and safety issues could include the following (CCOHS):
- Will the employer or the health and safety committee have access to the house for safety inspections? Or, will alternative arrangements be made such as the employee using checklists or submitting photos or the videos of the work area?
- What parts of the house will be considered the ‘workplace’? Is the bathroom and/or kitchen included?
- How will incidents be investigated?
Equipment and Proper Ergonomics
Employers are obligated to protect workers from musculoskeletal hazards related to ergonomics, just as they are with any other hazard. In an office environment, equipment that needs to be maintained could include chairs, height-adjustable equipment, keyboard trays, task lighting, etc.
The party responsible for purchasing equipment should be outlined in the Work from Home policy between employer and employee. In a hybrid working agreement, the decision to purchase equipment for one location or another will depend on what is considered a reasonable precaution. Some factors that may be considered include how many days a week will be spent at home vs. in the office, who made the decision that the employee would work in a hybrid model, and if the employee needs equipment or accommodations to help them perform the essential demands of their job.
Employers should also take every reasonable precaution to reduce exposure to musculoskeletal disorders by informing employees of risks, educating them how to use their equipment safely, and preventing them from overexposure to excessive force, repetition, and fixed or awkward postures.
It is the employee’s responsibility to report any injuries they sustain in the workplace to their supervisor, whether they are working in a regular workplace or from home. Employers can reduce friction in this process by creating a process for how injuries are reported and to whom. If employees are not sure if an injury is work-related, they should be reporting the injury so that their claim can be assessed by the WSIB to determine eligibility for compensation.
Health and Safety Checklist for Work at Home Arrangements
While employers cannot necessarily inspect every home workplace, they should be aware of common workplace hazards, educate employees of the risks, and endeavour to eliminate them where possible.
Here are some questions that should be on the health and safety checklist:
- Are there are any safety or security issues to working at home (e.g., working alone, fire hazards, electrical hazards, emergency procedures, etc.)?
- Does the employee have an ergonomic home office environment?
- Is there a written agreement in place that outlines the expectations of both employee and employer in maintaining health and safety standards (e.g., who will provide what equipment)?
- How often will safety checks be conducted?
- Who can employees go to for questions about safety?
- Is there a process in place for reporting injuries?
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
We believe that workplaces should be safe and healthy – physically and psychologically. Our Occupational Therapists can complete a variety of assessments to ensure your work environment is safe, which leads to more productive work. Our ergonomic assessments can determine if employees are at risk for injury on the job. Whether it’s musculoskeletal disorder prevention or education on using tools properly, these assessments provide accurate results and sustainable solutions.
You can make a referral to an Occupational Therapist for a virtual or in-person home office assessment or arrange for an ergonomic training session for your whole team as a preventative measure.
We also offer self-paced training to teach participants about preventing physical and psychological injury. Check out our training library to see our latest offerings.
The site information is for educational and informational purposes only, and does not constitute medical or legal advice.
“Occupational Health and Safety Act – Part III: Duties of Employers and Other Persons,” Government of Ontario, https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90o01#BK47
“FAQs about working from home/working remotely,” Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, https://www.wsib.ca/en/faqs-about-working-home-working-remotely
“Employees Injured While Working from Home Could Be Entitled to Workers’ Compensation,” Rabinovitch and Heppenstall, May 4, 2022, https://devrylaw.ca/employees-injured-while-working-from-home-could-be-entitled-to-workers-compensation/#_ftn14
“Telework/Remote Work/Working from Home,” Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, June 28, 2022, https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/telework.html
“Ergonomics in the workplace: understanding the law,” Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, August 19, 2021, https://www.ontario.ca/page/ergonomics-workplace-understanding-law