COVID and Employment Law – What’s Changed?

COVID and Employment Law

COVID changed how many people work, travel, socialize and live, but has it changed employment laws?

At this point in the pandemic, ‘returning to normal life’ seems almost impossible. It’s hard to imagine a COVID-free future because it made such an enormous impact in such a short amount of time. As a society, we all had to adapt our lives to survive and operate during a pandemic. For working Canadians, the shutdowns and adjustments continue to cause stress and frustration regarding COVID and employment laws.

State of Emergency’s and Stay-at-Home Orders

Lockdowns, state of emergencies, stay-at-home orders – what do they all mean? How do they affect COVID and employment? On December 26, 2020, the Ontario government placed all of southern Ontario under a four-week province-wide lockdown. After case numbers continued to rise, the province declared a state of emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and implemented a stay-at-home order.

Can your employer make you report to work during a stay-at-home order? The Government of Ontario has compiled a list of businesses, organizations, and facilities that may remain open with certain restrictions. Employers must allow their employees to work from home if possible. If your workplace can operate and you cannot do your job from home, you must report to work as usual.

COVID and Employment Standards Act (ESA)

In response to COVID and employment in Ontario, the government made necessary changes to the ESA.  The changes are applicable under a time-frame referred to as the “COVID-19 period”; dated March 1, 2020, to July 3, 2021. If you are a non-unionized employee, these changes provide you with job protection if your hours were reduced or eliminated due to the pandemic. Instead of being laid-off or constructively dismissed, the government would instead deem you to be on an infectious disease emergency leave by default.

After July 3, 2021, this job protection will still be available to you, whether you are unionized or not.  However, it will no longer be automatic; you must continue to meet the required conditions to be eligible.

Your employment rights if you are on an infectious disease emergency leave

Once deemed to be on infectious disease emergency leave, you have rights pertaining specifically to COVID and employment.

You have the right to:

  • Have your reduced or eliminated hours reinstated;
  • Return to work without fear of penalty or disciplinary action;
  • And accrue credits related to seniority and length of employment and service.

As with every other right outlined in the ESA, your employer can not punish you for asking about or exercising your rights.

Stay up-to-date with COVID and employment laws

With the constant changes, rules and regulations, it can be hard to stay up-to-date on COVID and employment law. As of now, changes to employment laws in Ontario are minimal and temporary. There’s no way to know if we will see any more changes in the future and what those changes may or may not be. Staying informed is crucial for your safety and the safety of others in the workplace. Provincial and municipal websites are the best resources for additional information about COVID and employment in your area.

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