Employment Rights: Second Wave of COVID-19

Employment Rights: Second Wave of COVID-19

What are your employment rights if there’s a second wave of COVID-19?

In March, most of the world went into lockdown amid the COVID-19 outbreak, which severely impacted economies and resulted in record-high unemployment rates. Epidemiologists agree that there is a possibility of a resurgence in cases come the fall/winter months. Fears stem from past pandemics and their second waves, most notably the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu, which had three waves. At the peak of the pandemic, Canada’s unemployment rate soared to 13%, and millions of Canadians lost their jobs. As the economy starts to re-open, a second wave’s looming possibility is making working Canadians and businesses worried about their employment rights and job security. 

Employment rights and COVID-19

As long as your workplace is open and operating, you must to report to work as usual. If working remotely is not possible, your employer’s responsibility is to ensure that your workplace is safe and follows all safety guidelines. 

 Your employment rights as per the Canada Labour Code concerning health and safety in the workplace are:

  • The right to know
  • The right to refuse unsafe work
  • The right to participate

Your employment rights in the context of COVID-19:

Your employment rights if you get infected with COVID-19 during the second wave

Without a vaccine, you will continue to be at risk of contracting the virus. Even if you are taking all of the necessary precautions to protect yourself, it is wise to be prepared if you do get sick. It is also essential that you are aware of your employment rights in such a situation.

As an employee, you have a responsibility to be transparent with your employer about your potential exposure to the virus and symptoms of infection. You must inform your employer if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, are experiencing symptoms, or have travelled outside of the country.

The Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies, 2020 was enacted to protect your employment rights and provides job protection if you are:

  • Actively being supervised, treated, or under medical investigation for COVID-19
  • Dismissed from your job by your employer over concerns of COVID-19 infection risks in your place of work
  • Taking care of someone for COVID-19 reasons (e.g., someone who is sick with the virus, a child who has to stay home due to daycare/school closures)
  • Restricted from entering Ontario because of travel
  • In isolation or quarantine as per public health recommendations and directions

The Act does not protect those who work in sectors that are under federal jurisdiction (i.e., airports, banks, federal crown corporations.)

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and paid sick leave

As many Canadians came to the end of their CERB funding eligibility back in June, the government announced an eight-week extension. Whether or not there will be another extension during a second wave is currently unknown. However, the Canadian federal government has started urging provinces and territories to consider implementing and expanding paid sick leave programs in their jurisdictions. Such a program would allow employees to take ten days of paid sick leave to stay home if they’re sick, which would help reduce transmission risks.

Details on the proposal, federal funding, and eligibility have yet to be announced. Plans that are proposed by the federal government would result in changes to the Employment Standards Act. Be sure to stay up-to-date to be aware of how these changes may affect your employment rights.

The future of COVID-19 is uncertain, but your employment rights are not

There is still very little information about how the government will handle a second wave of COVID-19. When and if the time comes, be sure to stay informed about your employment rights and know when and how you can exercise them. The best source of information is the Government of Canada’s webpage dedicated to your employment rights and responsibilities during COVID-19.