Air Canada flight attendant wins combat over COVID-19 staff’ compensation

A BC-based Air Canada flight attendant who claims to have signed COVID-19 on a number of long-haul flights in March last year has won a battle with the airline over compensation for workers.

A WorkSafeBC official sided with the flight attendant through the airline, who claimed the risk of getting COVID-19 on flights was “relatively low”.

The decision, taken in early January, is one of several recent decisions that highlight the difficulties employees in various areas have faced in obtaining compensation for workplace exposure to the coronavirus – especially in the early days of the pandemic.

Since the flight attendant fell ill last spring, her application predated the changes to provincial law last August that appear to have made BC a leading Canadian company in handling compensation claims for COVID-19 workers.

The province is alone in introducing suspected coverage that includes COVID-19 on its list of occupational diseases – such as lead- or asbestos-related diseases.

The change means employees who make a claim after catching COVID-19 at work will no longer need to provide evidence that they received it at work if they work in an environment where the risk of exposure is significantly higher is as for the general public.

This is in contrast to other provinces where COVID-19 claims are handled on a case-by-case basis.

“An unfortunate thing to deal with”

Wesley Lesosky, president of the airline division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, says the union would like the rest of the country to follow BC’s lead.

“We’d definitely like to see the same system that British Columbia adopted where it was just recognized – period,” Lesosky told CBC News.

Air Canada claimed the risk of flight attendants catching COVID-19 aboard an aircraft was low. However, a WorkSafeBC vetting officer said it was at least as likely as not that a BC flight attendant got the virus on the job. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press)

“For us as a union, the appeal process itself is incredibly cumbersome and challenging, but we definitely believe in it because our members are on the front lines during the pandemic. It’s an unfortunate thing to have to deal with, but it is definitely necessary. “

In the flight attendant’s case, the employer requested a review of WorkSafeBC’s initial acceptance of the claim. The companion said she made a number of overseas flights between March 21 and March 30, 2020, and started feeling sick on March 28.

She tested positive for COVID-19 at a local hospital on April 4.

The employee announced to the Board that she had been notified by the British Columbia Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) that there were several people on these flights who tested positive for COVID-19 and that two of her employees were also on the disease. “The decision is.

“She stated that she was close to these employees and took her breaks with them.”

In her decision, auditor Melina Lorenz said the airline had submitted a study that showed that the risk of transmission on flights was low. However, Lorenz said the study was published in October 2020 and only included data up to that point. She said it also relates to the risk of transmission to passengers – not flight attendants.

“Passengers usually sit in their seats for their flights, with the exception of an occasional trip to the washroom,” wrote Lorenz.

“The study did not address the risk to flight attendants who are in contact with many passengers and would move around the entire aircraft.”

Thousands of COVID-related claims

The review does not name the employee or the airline, but Lesosky confirmed that it was an Air Canada flight attendant. It’s one of a few similar decisions that can be found by searching the WorkSafeBC database. All of these are situations that predate August’s move to presumptive reporting.

In one case, a pharmacy assistant claimed she had COVID-19 in a position last April where she regularly assisted customers “with buying cough and cold medication”.

Other WorkSafeBC decisions related to COVID-19 include disclosures from mental health workers, people who work in pharmacies, and an occupational safety officer on a construction site. (Kay Nietfeld / dpa via AP Photo)

In another case, a mental health worker claimed she received COVID-19 from a customer who lives with his family. The family returned from vacation in early March 2020 and were all sick. The client had not traveled with them, but shortly afterwards showed signs of illness.

In this case, the worker tested negative for COVID-19 one month after the onset of severe symptoms. However, WorkSafeBC said the negative test didn’t mean she never had COVID-19.

In another case, an occupational health and safety officer for the construction industry successfully claimed that he received COVID-19 last March. He worked on a large site that involved multiple contractors. And even though he tested negative a month later, he had a number of symptoms.

The employer argued that no one else on the job site was diagnosed with COVID-19, but WorkSafeBC accepted that it was “at least as likely as not” that the employee had COVID-19 and that they got it in the workplace.

In a statement, WorkSafeBC said the board had received 3,444 COVID-19-related claims as of Jan. 22. Of those who entered the decision-making stage, 1,777 were admitted and 954 were not admitted.

But the organization says the vast majority of unapproved claims were about “exposure only” – where someone was exposed to the virus but never developed the disease. When “exposure only” claims are removed from the equation, WorkSafeBC’s approval rating is 93 percent.

“No health crisis in the workplace”

Ahead of the introduction of alleged coverage for COVID-19 claims in BC, the Employers Forum, a group of more than 70 employers and employers’ organizations across all business sectors, wrote a letter opposed to the change.

“Insufficient scientific information and the nature of this pandemic mean that the compensation system can only handle claims effectively on a case-by-case basis,” the letter said.

“This pandemic, like all pandemics, is a public health crisis, not a workplace health crisis.”

A spokesman for the union representing Air Canada flight attendants said its members (not pictured) have moved from wearing regular uniforms to wearing clothes, gloves and face shields in an attempt to reduce the possibility of COVID-19 transmission. (Edward Wang via Reuters)

Ritu Mahil, an employment law attorney at Lawson Lundell LLP and former vice chair of the BC Labor Relations Board, believes the decision the flight attendant is involved in matters as it paves the way for many others.

“This is a decision. There will be cases through airlines, grocery stores, schools and offices wherever you come in contact with large groups of people,” she said.

“And the test here is ‘at least as likely as not’.”

“It puts you in danger”

In the past year, Lesosky says, flight attendants have moved from their normal uniforms to body clothes, masks, eye protection and gloves, wearing thermometers and scrubbing with special bars of soap.

“The whole industry has changed for them,” he said.

Lesosky said “quite a few” flight attendants signed COVID-19 last year. He said the union saw a spike in cases at the start of the pandemic and a surge in November, but aren’t hearing about large numbers right now.

Lesosky said he didn’t have the exact numbers because some may not have contacted the union and others may still be on appeal to get compensation from workers.

He said it is not uncommon for companies to challenge positive decisions in employee compensation bodies. The union is currently appealing decisions in Ontario and Manitoba.

But Lesosky said the alleged BC coverage makes the province the easiest to deal with.

Air Canada said the company has just received the WorkSafeBC decision and is currently reviewing it.

“I think what British Columbia did is the right way to move forward,” said Lesosky.

“Let’s not offend the injury. You [flight attendants] stand out there. You are near COVID, walking through a hut with a few hundred people or even a few dozen people. It puts you in danger. “

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