As sporting events, concerts, conferences, schools, and other large venues close, Canadian business is grinding to a rapid halt. RBC and CIBC are now predicting a recession. The hardest hit sectors are likely to be retailers, tourism and hospitality services, airlines, bars, and restaurants. Regardless of the industry or sector, there will be dramatic ripple effects throughout the economy.
How do Canadian workplaces adjust to this new reality?
Employers have a legal duty to protect worker health and safety. This includes taking reasonable precautions to minimize potential exposure to the transmission of the virus. For those employers that can continue to operate, employers should be taking common sense precautions to minimize COVID-19 exposure, including:
- Providing hand sanitizers and wipes and regularly sanitizing the workplace;
- Providing gloves, masks or other protective where necessary;
- Requiring workers to stay at home if they are exhibiting symptoms of the virus;
- Requiring workers to provide a medical clearance confirming they are clear to safely return to work, after exhibiting symptoms of the virus;
- Reminding employees about basic hygiene tips, including washing hands and sanitizing their work station;
- In certain circumstances, allowing workers to work from home;
- Accommodating the necessary time off when workers report that they are ill or caring for an ill family member;
- Minimizing social contact by conducting meetings by video or conference call;
- Postponing workplace social gatherings; and
- Staggering work shifts.
If a worker tests positive for COVID-19, employers will need to take reasonable precautions to sanitize the workplace in order to minimize the spread of the virus to other workers.
Should employees be required to stay at home?
Employers should require workers to stay at home if suffering from Coronavirus-like symptoms.
In these circumstances, employees should be informed about any available paid sick leave benefits and/or short-term disability benefits. If paid sick leave benefits are not available, employees can apply for employment insurance benefits.
Health authorities are generally recommending that employers waive the requirement for medical notes to minimize the strain on limited health care resources.
Can employees refuse to attend work due to concerns about COVID-19 transmission?
Even if there is no specific or known COVID-19 threat in the workplace, the generalized risk of transmission in the community or in the workplace may be enough to excuse the employee from work, particularly if they are in an at-risk category or if they live with or care for a family member who may be vulnerable to the effects of the virus.
Can an employee be paid if they are in self-quarantine?
In the absence of paid sick leave benefits, employers are not required to pay employees if they are unable to work due to self-quarantine or illness associated with COVID-19.
Employers should consider offering employees the opportunity to use accrued vacation, banked lieu time or other accrued paid time off (PTO). If employees have exhausted paid time off benefits, allowing them to borrow against their PTO bank may assist employees with the burden of a pay disruption.
Can an employee apply for Employment Insurance Benefits?
Employees not eligible for paid sick leave benefits may apply for employment insurance benefits. The government provides up to 15 weeks of EI sick benefits if workers are unable to work due to illness or self-quarantine due to COVID-19.
The federal government has recently announced that it is eliminating the usual 1 week wait period for EI sick benefits. The federal government has also announced assistance to those Canadians fall ill and have to self-isolate but who do not have access to paid sick leave or EI.
What if the employee’s child’s school or daycare is closed and they can’t make it to work?
If an employee’s child’s school or daycare is closed and no other practical childcare options are available, employers should be accommodating work from home arrangements (if feasible) or otherwise, granting employees time off of work.
Employers are not required to pay employees while they are off of work, though due consideration should be given to allow employees to use any paid time off they have accrued or otherwise borrow against future paid time off benefits.
What are an employee’s rights if their employer suspends operations temporarily?
If workers are temporarily relieved of duties due to a suspension of operations, employees may be placed on a temporary layoff. A record of employment (ROE) will need to be issued for employment insurance purposes.
Pursuant to the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000, provincially regulated employers may temporarily lay off employees, for a period of up to 13 weeks. A temporary layoff may extend to up to 35 weeks (in a 52-week period), if the employer continues employee benefits, provides supplemental EI benefits or continues to substantially pay employees.
A temporary layoff can, in certain circumstances, trigger a constructive dismissal.
What are an employee’s rights if they are permanently laid off due to the impact of COVID-19?
If an employee is thus laid off, they are entitled to a severance package from their employer. The amount of severance to which they are entitled will likely depend on a variety of factors, including their length of service, age, position, their annual compensation, and their contract of employment.
Unionized employees who are laid off should consult you’re their collective agreement and speak to their local union representative.
Can an employer force an employee to remain off work due to concerns the employee may have caught the virus?
If there is a credible risk of exposure, for example, an employee is exhibiting symptoms or has recently returned from an area of the world where the risk to exposure is high, the employer may require the employee to obtain a medical clearance before they can safely return to work. If work can be completed from home, employers should consider accommodating work from home arrangements.
What if a worker who has been attending work is diagnosed with the virus?
Employers should take immediate precautions to sanitize the workplace and potentially suspend operations to avoid transmission of the virus in the workplace.
This is a rapidly changing situation. Stay tuned as we continue to update on legislative and other changes impacting the workplace. Do you have questions about your rights? Contact the experts at Pak Smith today.
If you have applied for EI due to the impact of COVID-19 and have questions, there is a special Service Canada toll-free number for inquiries: 1-833-381-2725