FAQ: Navigating COVID-19 outbreaks on Ontario farms
By Stephanie Gordon
What to do if a seasonal agricultural worker tests positive?
Fruit and Vegetable magazine (a sister publication of OHS Canada) recently reached out to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) through their general line to ask what happens if a worker tests positive for COVID-19.
The answers have also been supplemented by a factsheet on COVID-19 and the Workplace written by the Mathews Dinsdale law office.
For extended coverage of this issue, including a translation of the FAQ into Spanish, please visit the original story at fruitandveggie.com.
Para una cobertura extendida de este problema, incluida una traducción de las preguntas frecuentes al español, visite la historia original en fruitandveggie.com.
Q: If a worker tests positive for COVID-19, what happens next?
An employer has a legal obligation to report the contraction of COVID-19 to WSIB within three business days after learning about it (Fill out a Form 7.) If an employer is not sure whether the illness is work-related, it should still be reported. WSIB makes the decision whether an illness is work-related or not. An employer must also give notice in writing within four days to: a director of the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, the workplace’s joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative, and union (if applicable).
An employer should also grant leave to the employee and honour any sick leave obligations in the contract, including meeting the quarantine requirements under the Quarantine Act. Currently health guidance also states that all employees who worked closely with the infected employee should also be removed from the workplace for at least a 14-day period to ensure the infection does not spread in the workplace.
A worker who tests positive should get medical help and tell their employer about their illness. A worker can report their own COVID-19 diagnosis by filling out a Form 6. Workers have six months from the date of diagnosis to claim benefits by reporting the illness to the WSIB. Read the What to do if an injury or illness happens at work brochure in English, French, Spanish, Punjabi, Tamil, or more.
Q: Are temporary foreign workers and seasonal agricultural workers eligible for WSIB benefits?
Q: Can a worker be fired for contracting COVID-19?
No. Under Ontario’s new infectious disease emergency leave provisions, a worker’s job is protected while they take unpaid leave due to COVID-19. The legislation also makes it clear that employees are not required to show medical notes.
Q: Can a worker be fired for filing a claim?
No. An employer cannot terminate an employee who has a claim with WSIB.
Q: What WSIB benefits are available?
If a worker contracts COVID-19 and has to take time off, WSIB would cover their loss of earnings. Workplace insurance would pay 85 per cent of their take-home pay (net average earnings). There are also health benefits available, such as covering the cost of claim-related medications.
Q: How to file a WSIB claim for benefits?
A worker, an employer or a liaison officer can file a WSIB claim by calling, visiting the website, or faxing a form in.
- Call in and file a claim over the phone at 1-800-387-0750.
- Fill out a form online. There is a worker form and an employer form depending on who is filling it out.
- Print out a form and fax it in at 416-344-4684 or 1-888-313-7373.
If an employer fills out a form, they must provide a copy of the illness report to the employee. You can find information for liaison officers for Barbados, Eastern Caribbean, Jamaica, and Mexico through F.A.R.M.S.
Q: Does a worker have to prove they contracted COVID-19 at work?
It is up to the discretion of the adjudicator (person processing the claim) whether or not COVID-19 was a work-related illness. However, the WSIB representative said that it’s generally accepted that being an essential worker does increase the chances of contracting COVID-19 and that is factored into the decision for the WSIB claim.
Q: Are WSIB supports available in different languages?
Yes. WSIB has access to third-party language services. If you call and want to speak to someone in a different language, say what language you would prefer and WSIB will connect with a service that allows for live translation over the phone.
Q: How would a worker receive the WSIB benefit?
If the employer continues to pay the employee for the time they are not working, WSIB would reimburse the employer.
If the employer is not paying, WSIB would pay the worker directly.
Q: How long can a worker receive the benefit for?
A worker is covered until they’ve recovered from COVID-19 and have been cleared by a healthcare professional.
Q: Can a worker apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)?
In certain cases, temporary foreign workers may also be eligible to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) if they fit all the eligibility criteria. To access the federal benefit, workers must have earned $5,000 in the last 12 months or in the previous year.
If a worker is not eligible for CERB, they may be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) instead as long as they fit the criteria for EI.
“I know that most migrant workers they are racialized and they are marginalized from their position. We are cognizant of that, that it isn’t easy and with a language barrier it is even harder. We do have certain levels of protection in place to assist them and hopefully that is encouraging to anyone who is injured and seeking help and guidance. We’re always here and happy to help,” the WSIB customer representative told Fruit and Vegetable over the phone.