Casual Legal: New Year, New Work Arrangements, New Risks

By Taylor Thiesen

Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP

Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider

 

The COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented shift in working arrangements, with countless employees transitioning to fully or partially working from home. While many assumed this change would be temporary, nearly two years later it appears working from home is not going away anytime soon. Even after COVID-related restrictions have ended, it seems likely that, in many workplaces, some degree of flexibility in working from home will continue.

This shift brings with it both opportunities and risks for employers. One such risk is that while workers may not be at the office or job site, employers still have obligations related to workers’ compensation and ensuring employees’ health and safety while at work.

This was highlighted in a recent Quebec administrative labour tribunal case, Air Canada et Gentile-Patti. Ms. Gentile-Patti, like many others, was working remotely. While on the way to her kitchen to take a lunch break, she fell down the stairs and suffered injuries. She subsequently applied for worker’s compensation, arguing she was injured at work.

Her employer argued the claim should be denied, given the lack of connection between the work itself and the activity (i.e., going down the stairs to her kitchen), and the presumption that an accident in the home is something in an employee’s private life over which an employer has no control.

However, the tribunal found the fall was a sudden and unforeseen event that happened in the course of work and, thus, Ms. Gentile-Patti qualified for worker’s compensation. It was also relevant that she was at home because she had to work. The tribunal noted this was a case about worker’s compensation – not a case about whether the employer had met its obligations related to ensuring a worker’s health and safety.

Nevertheless, it is important for employers – including municipalities – to be aware that their OHS obligations do not end simply because an employee is working from home. This is an emerging area of law, and the scope of these obligations for remote workers have yet to be clarified.

 


To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or email casuallegal [at] abmunis.ca and reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please contact riskcontrol [at] abmunis.ca, or call 310-MUNI (6864) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.