Injured While Working Remotely from Home? You Might Have a Claim.

Nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people across the country continue to work from home. In addition to blurring the lines between “work time” and “personal time,” the idea of a physical workplace has also been redefined. This has led to legal complications, particularly with respect to claims arising from workplace injuries.

Workers’ compensation in Quebec

In September 2020, an Air Canada customer service agent was working remotely from her second-floor home office. She disconnected from her computer for lunch and headed downstairs to her kitchen. In the process, she injured herself when she tripped and fell on the stairway. She alleged that she was injured when exiting her workplace and was therefore entitled to worker’s compensation.

Air Canada disputed this, claiming that she was not at work when she was injured. Perhaps surprisingly, a Quebec labour judge disagreed and ruled that the employee sustained a workplace injury and was entitled to worker’s compensation.[1] While this is not a conclusion that will be reached in every case (the decision emphasizes certain facts specific to this case that made worker’s compensation applicable, such as the fact that the employer scheduled lunch breaks) the fact that this is a conclusion that may be reached is novel.

Although it is important to note that this occurred in Quebec, and that the laws surrounding worker’s compensation in Ontario are different from those in Quebec, this may be a trend we start to see in Ontario as work-from-home claims come forward.

Tort Claims

This decision has also started to raise questions as to whether employers can be sued for negligence in situations where an employee is injured while working from home. Not all employers have WSIB coverage and, as a result, their employees are not prohibited from suing them.

Employers in Ontario have a statutory duty pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act[2] to take “every precaution reasonable in the circumstances” to protect their employees’ safety. It is unclear what precautions are reasonable for employers to take when their employees are working from their own homes. A breach of this duty may be difficult to establish in cases where the injuries were caused by things not in the employer’s control, such as a stairway in an employee’s home. However, there may be things that are in the employer’s control, such as office equipment supplied by the employer, that cause injury to employees. What constitutes a reasonable precaution in this context remains to be seen.

Bottom Line

It seems probable that we will see lawsuits start to emerge against employers for injuries while working from home now that such work arrangements are so prevalent. If the Administrative Labour Tribunal decision in Quebec is any indication, at least some of these claims may succeed.

[1] Air Canada et Gentile-Patti, 2021 QCTAT 5829.

[2] R.S.O. 1990, c. O.1

Written by

Lauren Cullen is an associate lawyer at Siskinds LLP in London, Ontario. She practices exclusively in personal injury litigation and is a member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA). Lauren completed her law degree at Western University in 2016 and subsequently articled at a top personal injury law firm in Toronto.