Your Employee Rights During COVID Re-Opening

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What are your rights as an employee as the economy moves into the next stages of re-opening?

The process of re-opening the province of Ontario, post-COVID-19, commenced with Stage 1 on May 19. Stage 2 began on June 12, followed by Stage 3, which started on July 17. Each step of re-opening has a goal; Stage 1 brought support and relief. Stage 2 was centred around gradually restarting the economy. Currently, in Stage 3, the focus is aimed at recovery and long-term growth. The transition into Stage 3 allowed for almost all public spaces and businesses to gradually re-open. Moving forward with the re-opening, you have employee rights and regulations as a working Canadian intended to ensure your safety in the workplace.

Your right to refuse unsafe work

Your employer must ensure that your workplace is safe and free of hazards. COVID-19 is considered a workplace hazard posed by an infectious disease. If your employer fails to follow general and sector-specific safety guidelines pertaining to COVID-19, you can exercise your employee rights to refuse unsafe work. However, the existence of COVID-19 alone is not enough of a reason to refuse work. If your employer is taking all necessary precautions, providing the required personal protective equipment (PPE), and following health and safety guidelines, you must report to work as usual.

Other circumstances under which you may not refuse work:

  • The refusal to work could result in endangering the health, safety, or life of someone else
  • The concern is related to dangerous work considered to be a standard or essential condition of your employment

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA)

You have health and safety employee rights and responsibilities outlined in the OHSA. If your employer fails to comply with OHSA regulations, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development may issue a stop-work order upon conducting an inspection.

OHSA requirements include:

  • Workers must be provided with, and adequately trained on how to use the required PPE
  • All circumstantially reasonable precautions must be taken to ensure employees are not at risk of injury or work-related illness
  • Establishing and enforcing health and safety policies and procedures and the law across all parties in the workplace
  • Providing workers with the necessary supervision, information, and instruction about hazards
  • Supervisors must be informed and knowledgeable about the requirements needed to protect workers health and safety on the job  

For further information on your health and safety employee rights, you can read the Occupational Health and Safety Act Guide.

Masks and other PPE

In jurisdictions where masks have become mandatory in indoor public spaces, there is an expectation for your employer to provide you with one. Even if your job does not typically require that you wear a mask, you must adhere to the temporary mandatory mask by-law. Additionally, it is within your employee rights that your employer provides you with all other compulsory PPE (and training associated with how to use them) that they require.

If your mandatory PPE is absent or defective, this puts you and other workers at risk. You should report concerns to your supervisor, employer, joint health and safety committee, and the health and safety representative (if applicable). If your employer has not corrected the situation, you should then file a workplace health and safety complaint.

The future of re-opening

Stage 3 is the final stage of Ontario’s action plan in response to COVID-19. Public health officials and the Chief Medical Officer of Health will continue to monitor the situation. They will advise when to ease, tighten, or apply further public health restrictions. As more businesses continue to open and more Canadians return to work and normal life, it is essential to inform yourself of your employee rights.

If you have a complaint or concern regarding your employee rights that you cannot resolve internally, you can file a grievance in Ontario with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.

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Daniel Badre Founder, Partner
Daniel Badre is a distinguished personal injury lawyer based in Ottawa, renowned for his unwavering commitment to justice and advocacy for those who have suffered from accidents or negligence. With a legal career spanning over two decades, Badre has established himself as a compassionate and tenacious advocate for his clients.
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