In the recent decision, Air Canada and Gentile-Patti, 2021 QCTAT 5829 [Gentile-Patti], Quebec’s Administrative Labour Tribunal (the “Tribunal”) held that an employee was entitled to compensation for suffering an occupational injury while working from home. The Tribunal ruled that while the employee injured herself on her lunch break, this period was connected to her work, resulting in the injury being classified as a workplace injury.
Background of the Employee’s Injury
The employee, Alexandria Gentile-Patti, was working from home as a customer service agent for the employer, Air Canada. While on her lunch break, the employee lost her footing on the stairs in her home and fell, injuring herself. The employee successfully filed a claim with the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (“CNESST”), Quebec’s labour standards, pay equity and workplace health and safety board, for the injuries she sustained from the fall.
The employer appealed CNESST’s decision to the Tribunal, arguing that the employee’s fall was not an occupational injury because she fell at home during a personal activity, after she had disconnected from her work computer.
The Tribunal’s Decision
The Tribunal disagreed with the employer, holding that the employee’s fall met the definition of a “work accident”, as it was an unforeseen and sudden event that occurred in the course of work. As such, the employee was entitled to workers’ compensation.
In its decision, the Tribunal considered various factors, including: the location of the employee’s injury; the timing of the injury; and the activity the employee was engaged in when she was injured.
The Tribunal found that employees working from home must benefit from the same legal protection as employees who perform their duties on the employer’s premises. In this case, the employee was at her home during the set work hours specifically for the purpose of carrying out her duties. Her home, for all intents and purposes, was her workplace.
The Tribunal further stated that a temporal link existed between the employee’s injury and her work, despite the fall occurring during her lunch break. In this regard, the Tribunal noted that the employee was required to follow a precise schedule established by the employer, which permitted the employee to take breaks at a set time. Moreover, there could be no concept of a “break” if such a period was not connected to the employee’s work. The Tribunal also noted that the fall occurred moments after the employee disconnected from her computer.
It was unnecessary in this case to consider whether eating lunch was a work-related or personal activity, given that the fall did not occur while she was eating lunch, but when she was on her way to have lunch.
Finally, in response to the employer’s argument that it has no control over maintaining the safety of the employee’s home, the Tribunal noted it was not examining the employer’s health and safety obligations in its review of CNESST’s decision granting compensation for the employee’s occupational injury.
Takeaways for Employers
While Gentile-Patti is not binding in other provinces and territories, the factors considered by the Tribunal are similar to the factors considered by other Canadian worker compensation boards, and the case is therefore likely persuasive elsewhere in Canada.
For instance, in determining whether an accident occurred in the course of employment, the Worker Safety and Insurance Board in Ontario also considers factors such as the place of the injury, the timing of the injury, and nature of activity in relation to the injury and the workplace. As such, Gentile-Patti provides insight into how other Canadian worker compensation boards may approach entitlement to compensation for occupational injuries sustained while working from home, regardless of whether an employee is performing a work task.
While Gentile-Patti did not address employer health and safety obligations, under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are required to take every reasonable precaution in the circumstances to protect their employees, including employees working from home. As the continued risk of COVID-19 has necessitated the transition to remote work, it is important for employers to continue to comply with their health and safety obligations, regardless of where their employees are working. Any failure to comply with the obligations under relevant health and safety legislation may attract significant damages and would be dealt with under an entirely different legislative scheme than workers’ compensation.