Contracting COVID-19 In the Workplace
While COVID-19 vaccines appear to be on the horizon, the virus remains a reality for many businesses across Ontario. For employees, the possibility of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace continues to exist, and workplaces remain obligated to provide a safe workplace environment for their employees. Considering the nature of the virus, employees who are employed at a business that is continuing to operate during this time have a risk of contracting the virus due to being exposed to the public. As such, employees should make themselves aware of their rights in the event they contract COVID-19.
Concerns About Attending the Workplace
If a non-unionized employee in Ontario contracts COVID-19 in the workplace in a position that requires in-person attendance at the workplace, that employee would reasonably have concerns about continuing to come into the workplace. Non-unionized Ontario employees maintain the ability to take Infectious Disease Emergency Leave if they need to self-isolate or go into quarantine in accordance with public health information, or if they need to undergo medical treatment for it. The Employment Standards Act protects employees from dismissal for taking the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave – an employee suffering from COVID-19 can’t face reprisal for taking Infectious Disease Emergency Leave or be threatened for doing so.
What an Employer Can’t Do
Employees maintain the right to be free from discrimination in the workplace, both in Ontario and at federal workplaces. If an employer is giving negative treatment because an employee has contracted COVID-19, or if an employer fails to provide accommodations relating to COVID-19 to an employee due to contracting the virus, there may be grounds to bring a human rights application to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
This could also include arbitrarily cutting an employee’s hours if they have contracted COVID-19 and need to work from home, if there is no business reasoning for the reduction.
What an Employer Can Do
Employers can ask employees questions regarding recent travel and whether they suffer COVID-like symptoms before allowing them to attend the workplace. Furthermore, employers can request employees work from home or go on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave in order to keep the workplace safe.
It is also worth noting that under the Employment Standards Act, employers can reduce hours or pay for employees where the reduction is related to COVID-19s impact on the business. If an employee contracts COVID-19 and as a result has hours or pay reduced while working from home, it may not automatically be for discriminatory reasons, and may in fact be legitimate.
Considering the complex issues involved in workplaces operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, employers should consult with an employment lawyer before making any decisions regarding employees suffering from COVID-19. Doing so can avoid costly liability for human rights or other forms of monetary damages.
If you are an employee who wants to know more about your workplace rights if you contract COVID-19, or an employer who wants to know more about your workplace obligations, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at +1 (866) 508-2548 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.
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