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If you are an employer, FAQs for employers are widely available online. Still, you may have questions regarding the on-going COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on your business. Here are answers to some common questions that may assist you in navigating the recent legislative changes as a result of the COVID-19 virus.

Do I have to close my business?

On March 23, 2020, the Government of Ontario published a list of essential services which may remain open during the pandemic. All other workplaces not on the list are considered non-essential and at-risk workplaces, and have been ordered to close by 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

The pandemic is forcing me to shut down my business, what are my obligations to my employees?

If, as an employer, your business was forced to close down or may be forced to close down due to a lack of business, employers should provide their employees with information about what to expect, and should consult a lawyer to ensure what is said is appropriate.

Employers may temporarily lay off employees but should be mindful of following relevant employment or labour legislation. Employers should also have their employment contracts reviewed, as an absence of the contractual right to lay off an employee may constitute a constructive dismissal, depending on factors including the nature of the industry.

In any event, if there is an interruption in an employee’s work, the employer must provide the employee with their record of employment.

Do I need to provide my employees with the option to work from home?

While such an option is not mandated by law, employers are expected to take reasonable measures to provide their employees with a safe workplace environment. What is “reasonable” is changing daily, but given the Ontario government’s “state of emergency” announcement, employers should strongly consider providing the option if the nature of the work permits it.

What if one of my employees is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19?

If an employee is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, an employer must take steps to ensure the workplace environment continues to be safe, while avoiding discriminating against the employee who is ill. These employees may take sick leave and may apply for COVID-19 related benefits if the employer does not offer paid leave.

There is currently no legal requirement to for employers to provide employees affected by COVID-19 with paid leave. Employers should review their employment contracts to see what agreement they have in place with respect to paid leave.

Can I dismiss an employee during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Employers need to be mindful of dismissals during this time. Any dismissal should not be motivated due to an employee’s illness, or an employee’s need to care for their children or family due to illness.

An employer can still dismiss an employee for non-discriminatory, business-related reasons, in circumstances that normally would have warranted a dismissal even prior to the pandemic. However, the employer should ensure that employees are paid their proper entitlements to avoid any wrongful dismissal claims. What is an adequate termination package will depend on several factors which would require legal consultation.

Can employees refuse to come to work due to the pandemic?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act permits employees to refuse unsafe work. Considering the risks posed by COVID-19, the conditions of the workplace itself—including travel requirements, close contact with others—may pose a great health risk. However, it will depend on a number of factors and the specific conditions of each workplace.

In one workplace, an employee and colleagues with no symptoms might be entitled to refuse to perform tasks if the risk is otherwise very high.

During this time, an employer should inform their employees how they are taking all reasonable steps to maintain the health and safety of their workplace environment.

Contact Us

If you are an employer with additional questions regarding your rights, options, and obligations during this pandemic, or an employee who would like to know more about your rights and options, our team of experienced legal professionals at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at  1-(800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support, visit our CLO program page for our strategic solutions.