COVID-19: What Are my Rights as a Worker?
What can your employer expect from you, what can you do to protect your salary and all your legal questions answered.
Can I stay home from work if I feel unsafe?
It depends on whether your workplace represents a reasonable likelihood that you will become infected. You may refuse to perform your job if it is likely to endanger you.
You cannot be fired for refusing to work due to COVID-19 if you, in good faith, believe you will become infected. These decisions will be based on public health authority recommendations.
If you are unsure or feeling unsafe, start by talking to your employer and seeing recommendations posted on municipal, provincial and federal websites.
Governments both federal and provincial are preparing to pass legislation to provide income support and protect those in quarantine or being treated. Details are unknown, we will update this page as they are released.
Qualifying and Applying for EI
As many Canadians are either not working or only partially working at this time, Employment Insurance (EI) benefit access rules have changed. Everybody is not eligible for EI.
We are updating our EI resource daily. For more information, click the link below to learn more about your eligibility, benefits for self-employed individuals, freelancers, contract workers and more details on how best to apply.
What About Compensation?
If you have COVID-19 or are otherwise required to self-isolate, you may not be entitled to your regular salary. Many employers are still offering pay, but not all are required to. You may make a claim under your work disability insurance policy or sick-leave policy. You could be entitled to EI immediately (waiving the 1-week wait period) or you can opt to use paid vacation time.
Layoffs, Wage Reductions, and Time Off
What does a temporary lay-off mean for me?
Temporary layoffs are allowed depending on your provincial laws. Most require that you be recalled to work by a certain time, so it cannot result in termination.
Employers are using this option because it allows you to preserve job security while being entitled to EI. Most of the time, your employee health benefits would be continued.
A temporary layoff usually is only allowed if it is permitted in your employment agreement. Given that laws are changing, it may later be viewed as reasonable that employers implemented temporary layoffs.
Do I have to accept reduced hours or lower wages?
Your employer cannot force you to accept significant and harmful changes to your employment, and this includes pay and hours worked. It also includes other normal entitlements like benefits, commissions, bonuses, allowances etc…
If these changes do happen, you may treat it as a “constructive termination” which means you can be entitled to severance, damages for lost pay. This may mean you actually have to leave work to find another job which is challenging at this time.
Therefore, many employees are taking our recommended approach of working with employers and accepting temporary reductions in pay in order to keep their jobs and help keep their employers afloat.
Your employer may suggest The Work Sharing Program, an adjustment program to help employers and employees avoid layoffs due to temporary reductions in business activity. It allows Service Canada, the employer, and the employee to agree to a reduced schedule of work to allow different employees to share the remaining money. Click here to learn more.
Read: The Ultimate Financial Guide to COVID-19: How to Protect Your Finances During the Coronavirus Crisis.
Schools are closed, can I get time off to stay home?
This would fall under a human rights law, which means employers have to accommodate your child-care needs. If your role can be performed remotely, they should enable you to do so. Alternatively, they can work with you to identify other child care arrangements.
If no options are available, then you can be entitled to unpaid time off to stay home, and you would be eligible for EI. You cannot be fired for staying home to take care of your children at this time.
Do I have to use my vacation time?
It depends on the province, but usually, your employer can direct when you take time off.
What Will Happen if My Employer Closes Down?
Am I entitled to severance pay if my employer closes down?
In short, yes, because this would equal a termination. An exception exists if the company has gone bankrupt. That being said, employers may be given grace. It could involve a legal battle as well.
Do I Qualify for EI Without Symptoms?
If you have reason to quarantine due to travel, exposure, symptoms or ill family members, then you can apply for EI under the “sickness benefits” section. Medical certificates are no longer required for COVID-19 related issues. Restrictions of gatherings over 50 people may also fit the definition of required “quarantine”. There is still doubt. We do not recommend going against your employer to voluntarily self-isolate without any direct connection to prevailing public health recommendations. You may not qualify for EI in this case.