Everything employees and employers need to know about possible employment law issues during COVID-19
Back in April, over 2 million Canadians lost their jobs due to country-wide shutdowns in an effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19. As we approach the one-year mark of the first shutdown, Ontario is entering its third round of closures as the province struggles to get a hold of the spread. Throughout this pandemic, employers and employees had to adapt to a ‘new normal’ and adjust protocols and procedures to comply with public health orders. As a result of these unprecedented times, there was – and continues to be – a lot of conversation regarding employment law issues during COVID-19.
Employment law issues at home
Many companies, organizations, and businesses moved their services online amid the shutdown, meaning many Canadians are working from home. While the convenience of taking meetings from bed is nice, some employment law issues and confusions may arise.
When asked to work remotely, an employee must oblige to the working hours assigned by their employer. The employer is responsible for facilitating the transition to working remotely, however possible (e.g., specific training, necessary equipment).
If your employer refuses to let you work from home, employment law comes into play differently depending on the circumstance. Under the Human Rights Code, employers have to make accommodations so that everyone can participate fully. Suppose you have to care for children due to closures, and your employer refuses to let you work from home. In that case, this is considered grounds of discrimination. However, if working from home isn’t possible or if the employer claims undue hardship, you must report to work as instructed.
Changes to job requirements, pay, and scheduling
Among the Canadians who didn’t lose their jobs, some saw their hours severely reduced. Suppose an employer lowers your wage or makes considerable changes to your hours or pay. In that case, this may be an employment law issue. According to employment law in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, a reduction of hours or salary by more than 10 percent or changes to an employment contract without permission can result in constructive dismissal. COVID-19 does not affect or change these laws.
Whether or not you can terminate your employment and receive full severance pay due to constructive dismissal depends on many factors. If you have concerns or questions regarding constructive dismissal, contacting a lawyer specializing in employment law is advisable.
Accommodations for childcare and COVID-19 illness
The Ontario Human Rights Code categorizes COVID-19 as a disability because it carries a social stigma. If an employee contracts COVID-19, the employer takes on the responsibility of accommodating them, however possible, within reason. An employee who must stay home for childcare reasons is entitled to the same accommodations. Furthermore, the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020, protects Canadians’ jobs, without pay, if they cannot report to work due to COVID-19 related reasons. If an employer attempts to dismiss or punish an employee because they have contracted COVID-19, must care for someone who is ill or stay home with children, this is an employment law issue.
For the most part, while COVID-19 significantly impacted life as we know it, employment law and rights remain very much the same. You are still entitled to the same employment rights you had before the pandemic. Be sure to do your research and exercise your rights accordingly. Your responsibilities to your employer are important, but their commitment to protecting you and your well-being is also fundamental, and it’s the law.