Legislative Changes to Workplace Protections amid COVID-19 Pandemic
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, legislative changes are introduced to help workers and businesses find answers on what should happen, how to protect and sustain themselves, and what their rights and obligations are.
On Monday March 16, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that the Government of Ontario will introduce new legislation that, if enacted, would protect the jobs of workers affected by COVID-19. Specifically, workers who need to self-isolate or self-quarantine due to the virus would receive job-protected leave. The provincial government also stated that workers under supervision, investigation, or treatment for the virus and those who need to care for family and loved ones affected by the virus will also be included under these protections.
The Ontario government has also announced that it will be waiving the requirement of medical documentation for extended sick leave due to the virus. Legislative protections would be retroactive to January 25, 2020 and will last until the virus is “defeated”.
What does this mean for Employees?
Employees still have obligations to their employers, even if these legislative changes are enacted. Employees who require COVID-19-related leave are expected to notify their employer as soon as possible. The duty of good faith in the employment relationship still applies, and employees should ensure that they do not falsely claim the need for leave—otherwise, such conduct may amount to just cause. On the other hand, employees with job insecurity due to COVID-19-related reasons or absences should seek legal advice to ensure their rights are being upheld.
On their end, employees should ensure that they are up to date with public health authorities’ recommendations regarding travelling and self-isolation. Employees should refer to guidance from public health authorities regarding self-quarantining, self-isolation, and self-monitoring. If they experience any virus-related symptoms or any risk of exposure, employees are expected to communicate same to their employer immediately.
Employees should also be aware that employers can still dismiss or layoff employees during this period for any other non-discriminatory reason. Employees that do not fall under the above protections should be mindful to meet their work obligations and perform at the standards expected of them.
There are circumstances where employees may refuse to report to work if they have a reasonable basis to believe their duties present a danger to their health or safety—what is “reasonable” in the circumstances is also subject to change. Important factors include:
- The nature of the workplace;
- The employee’s individual circumstances (e.g. part of a vulnerable population: elderly, immunocompromised, underlying medical condition); and
- Information regarding COVID-19.
If an employee refuses work, employers have the obligation to investigate the concern and to adopt measures to limit or remove the workplace danger. Employees are protected from reprisal in attempting to enforce their rights under workplace health and safety legislation.
Working from Home
Employers may ask employees to stay home if they have symptoms of COVID-19, have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or have or have been exposed to someone who recently travelled on a cruise ship or to an area that is the subject of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (“PHAC”) notice and advisory.
Employers have an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to take reasonable care to maintain a safe and healthy workplace; however, what is “reasonable” may will change as information regarding COVID-19 changes.
While numerous businesses are currently implementing work-from-home initiatives to help reduce exposure to and spread of the virus, they are not required to do so and in fact, some businesses may not be capable of providing employees with work from home. The new legislation proposed by the Ontario government does not mandate employers to provide work from home; as such, it is up to the particular business, with consideration to the business’s undue hardship.
Nonetheless, employers should acting reasonably and take proactive measures where necessary to ensure they meet their obligations under workplace health and safety legislation, as well as human rights obligations regarding accommodation.
If you are an employee wanting to know more about your rights under the new proposed legislation, or an employer wanting to know more about your obligations, our team of experienced legal professional 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.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as, or should be construed as legal advice, and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call 1-(800)771-7882, or email [email protected].