A small number of Manitobans have received workers’ compensation due to COVID-19, and none has been allowed to refuse work on safety grounds related to the pandemic.
As of three weeks ago, the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba (WCB) had accepted 15 claims, all from health workers, related to the pandemic.
In April, an outbreak of 10 employees of the Health Sciences Centre tested positive for COVID-19; that outbreak has since been resolved.
In total, WCB received 156 claims about COVID-19 between mid-March and June 3. Those attempted claims include health care, public administration and other workplaces. The other 141 claims were abandoned, either because the worker tested negative, didn’t provide documentation or opted to withdraw the claim.
Meanwhile, the labour department has not upheld any refusals to work under the Workplace Safety and Health Legislation due to the coronavirus.
As of Monday, WSH inspectors assessed nine formal attempts to refuse work related to COVID-19, but says it resolved those disputes.
"The majority of these refusals related to personal protective equipment, social distancing and safety protocols," a provincial spokeswoman wrote.
Generally, WSH staff find a solution with employers; outright refusals are rare. They require not just the risk of an injury at work, but an outright danger that is unusual for the job at hand, or inadequate protocols to prevent injury.
The provincial law covers most workers in Manitoba, though those in federally regulated workplaces like railways and banks fall under the federal labour code.
A formal refusal to work is mandatory for anyone receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) who is called back to work to continue staying at home.
Under the attestation when applying for the CERB, Canadians must commit to returning to work when asked, unless they have been successful in formally refusing dangerous work.
Both the WCB and WSH say they are monitoring labour conditions as the province continues opening up.
Because so many businesses closed at the start of the pandemic, the WCB recorded a 20 per cent drop in claims for the first five months of this year. Claims rose as businesses started reopening, though it had not reached normal levels as of mid-June.
"WCB and SAFE Work Manitoba will closely monitor the recovery in each sector and continue to work with industries, to help prevent a rebound of injuries as the economy recovers and workplaces return to pre-pandemic operations," wrote spokeswoman Tracey Shelton.
The WCB provided its data earlier this month, while the WSH took much longer to assemble its statistics.