Topic:

April 2024

COVID-19 AND YOUR EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS

While the global coronavirus pandemic escalates. it’s understandable that many employees are nervous about heading into work every day – particularly those with lupus or other autoimmune conditions.

Employers have a positive obligation to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of employees under occupational health and safety legislation. If an employee has reason to believe that there is a dangerous condition in the workplace, the employee may be able to refuse to attend work or perform certain duties. Occupational health and safety legislation states that employers cannot dismiss, discipline, or intimidate employees for properly exercising a health and safety right.

In the context of COVID-19 pandemic, work refusals could be based on

  • a confirmed or presumptive case of COVID-19 in the workplace
  • a confirmed case of COVID-19 in an employee’s immediate family
  • the risk of potential exposure to COVID-19 from people at work – other employees, clients, customers
  • concerns from employees who are particularly vulnerable (over age 65, compromised immune system, other medical condition) not wishing to report to work

In the event of a work refusal, the employer must respond in accordance with occupational health and safety legislation. An investigation will be made into the concerns and, if appropriate, measures to eliminate or reduce the workplace danger will be adopted. If the employee disagrees with the employer’s decision or measures to eliminate the danger, they can contact a health and safety officer who will then investigate the concern. The employer may also contact the HSO if the employee maintains their refusal to perform the work.

An employee who exercises a right of refusal must still be paid until the situation is resolved with the employer, or until the health and safety officer renders a decision. The worker may be assigned alternative duties by the employer in the interim.

If the employer cannot make work adjustments to eliminate the danger, then the employee could be placed on alternate duties. If that’s not possible, then they’d likely explore options like unpaid leave. In this situation, the person would still be employed and not eligible for EI. So this is one of the situations that the new emergency benefit is intended for.

https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/03/introduces-canada-emergency-response-benefit-to-help-workers-and-businesses.html

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