COVID-19 – Short Term Disability Coverage & Sick Leave
For information about Workers Compensation Coverage please refer to this article.
Originally posted March 13, 2020
Updated March 24, 2020
With the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic, Canadian employers should prepare for the worst and plan how to respond to various employment-related issues that could arise if the virus continues to spread.
We have outlined below general answers to some of the questions our clients are asking during this COVID-19 pandemic flu relating to Short Term Disability (STD) coverage and absence.
Short Term Disability Questions and Answers
The following pertains to how TeksMed will manage, adjudicate and provide advice to pay services.
Are periods of quarantine deemed to be a medically supported absence under STD?
Short Term Disability benefits are there to support your employees when they have an injury or an illness that prevents them from working.
An employee would be eligible to receive STD benefits providing they become ill or have symptoms and/or test positive for COVID-19, and they are unable to work from home. The determining factor for STD acceptance is illness, not simply self-quarantine or self-isolation. In other words, an employee needs to be ill to receive STD benefits. If an employee is not working because they are self-quarantined or self-isolated (just like their co-workers and/or neighbours following public health directives to stay home as a precaution) but they are not ill or have no symptoms, there is no disability claim.
To clarify, STD benefits are not payable if an employee is under quarantine by a doctor or public health official, or self-isolating (voluntarily or at the direction of their employer), but does not have signs of COVID-19 or has not tested positive for it.
How long is the self-quarantine period?
Currently, the self-quarantine period is 14 days. If the person has symptoms at any time during this period, the self-quarantine period may be extended.
Are you waiving the Waiting Period for STD COVID-19 claims?
Yes, providing the employee tests positive for COVID-19.
A workplace might close as a precaution (not because any employees have been exposed or are sick). Will employees be eligible for STD?
No. A workplace that closes or asks employees to stay home with no medical need is making an independent business decision.
Do disability agreements contain any exclusions or limitations regarding pandemic illnesses?
Generally, STD agreements do not contain specific exclusions for pandemic illnesses. Therefore, your employees should be covered for COVID-19 as appropriate.
Medical Evidence Requirements
Will TeksMed require medical evidence to support an absence due to COVID-19?
Not at this time. In recognition of the increasing pressure on our medical clinics and hospitals due to the global health emergency, TeksMed will not, at the outset, require an Attending Physician’s Statement as part of a STD claim submission if the absence is due to COVID-19 symptoms, a clinical diagnosis of the virus, or a quarantine order.
In the absence of an Attending Physician’s Statement, TeksMed requires confirmation of the symptoms and any medical treatment received for the condition. Accordingly, an appropriate COVID-19 Claimant Statement will be issued for completion and return.
However, once a claimant has been cleared to return to work, appropriate medical confirmation will be obtained for safety reasons.
Can TeksMed tell me if any of my employees have COVID-19?
Like any other diagnosis, TeksMed respects the privacy and confidentiality of your employees, and because of this TeksMed does not share this information. Medical professionals are obligated to report the presence or suspected presence of COVID-19. You may be asked to help identify individuals who are potentially exposed. TeksMed can report the number of incidences to you if there are enough claims to prevent the identification of affected employees.
No Short Term Disability Coverage
Are employees entitled to sick leave benefits?
Employees who miss work due to illness caused by COVID-19 may be eligible for benefits under an existing sick leave policy. Illness caused by COVID-19 should be handled in the same manner as any other illness; eligibility criteria and requirements of any sick leave policy should be applied to these cases as they would under any other circumstance.
Do we have to keep paying quarantined/isolated employees?
Circumstances may arise wherein employees are subject to self-isolation or quarantine, but are not themselves experiencing symptoms. If your company’s sick leave policy is vaguely worded, benefits may still be payable in these situations. If your policy does not explicitly provide coverage for such events, you may consider extending benefits temporarily during this particular pandemic, rather than have employees apply for employment insurance (if available). Alternatively, employers can allow employees to use available vacation time to cover absences, or to make up the missed time at a later date. If a worker is quarantined but still able to work, they could be permitted to work from home, where possible.
Employers should recognize that policies and expectations regarding employee absenteeism, including sick leave policies, need to remain realistically feasible during the unique circumstances of this pandemic, and should not be punitive in nature. For example, requiring a doctor’s note from sick employees with flulike symptoms during a national health crisis – while the Canadian healthcare system is considerably burdened – may be impractical.
Is there any employment insurance (EI) relief for employees who are required to self-isolate?
If company paid sick benefits are unavailable or exhausted, employees may be entitled to benefits under the Employment Insurance Act (Act). Employees who experience and injury, illness, or quarantine that reduces their normal weekly earnings by at least 40% are eligible to EI sickness benefits under the Act, assuming they have accumulated sufficient insurable hours.
The federal government announced on March 11, 2020 that it will waive the mandatory one-week waiting federal government announced period of Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits for workers who are in quarantine, or who have been advised to self-isolate, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. It does not appear to cover voluntary self-isolation, however, or indicate what evidence is necessary in order to qualify for the waiver.
General Questions and Answers
If an employee calls in sick, can I ask them if they think they have COVID-19?
Private sector privacy laws require employers to collect only the minimum amount of personal information necessary to meet a business need. An employer can know if an employee cannot come to work due to illness. However, the employer should not ask the employee’s specific diagnosis, including if it might be COVID-19.
For some employers, specific protocols are in place for infectious diseases. These protocols may be enhanced under the circumstances. Employers should make sure all reporting protocols are communicated clearly if this applies to them.
Can an employee refuse to work?
Under Occupational Health and Safety legislation, most workers have the right to refuse work if they feel an aspect of their workplace is “likely to endanger” their health or safety. Employees who fear exposure to COVID-19 in their workplace may refuse work in reference to this legislation.
Some employees are exempt from the aforementioned right to refuse work. This includes individuals whose work is inherently dangerous, or in circumstances where refusal to work would result in the endangerment of another’s life, health, or safety. Examples include first responders such as police officers, firefighters, and paramedics, as well those working in a hospital. These exceptions can be complicated, and each situation needs to be evaluated individually.
Can an employer terminate an employee due to illness, such as coronavirus?
No, employers may not terminate or discriminate against an employee due to physical disability (including illness) under human rights legislation. Employers are obligated to accommodate the employee to the point of ‘undue hardship.’
Please note that the COVID-19 pandemic is an ever-changing global event which may impact the stance of the Government of Canada, thus updates will be provided when new information is made available.
For more information on Short Term Disability management and workers’ compensation matters please feel free to reach out to TeksMed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To further assist you, please review our companion article, “COVID-19 – Workers’ Compensation Coverage” which sets out some of the emerging questions and answers.