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What Effect Will Covid-19 Have On My Employment?

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID-19 was a pandemic. The global spread of what experts have referred to as the “novel coronavirus” has had a significant impact on all of our families, communities and way of life.

In particular, as a result of the ordering of mandatory temporary closures  of a variety of businesses and the encouragement of self-isolation by the Government of Ontario, employers and their corresponding employees have been left in a state of uncertainty. At Tailor Law, one of our specialist legal practices is employment law and we understand how confusing and frightening it can be when your very livelihood is threatened by forces outside of your control.

The following Frequently Asked Questions and Answers may be able to shed some light on your position:

Can I be forced to come to work if I feel it is unsafe? Am I entitled to work from home?

Where you have reason to believe a workplace is likely to endanger your health or put you at risk, you may have the right to refuse to work there. You must typically prove there is a clear and present danger which will depend on the kind of work you perform and any other relevant circumstances. There must a be real risk to your health and any right to stay at home would only last as long as the threat of potential infection was present. Without a reasonable belief, held in good faith of the risk of infection, your wages and job may be affected if you choose not to attend your workplace to work.

If you are required to be at home to care for a child, your employer is required under human rights law to make reasonable accommodations for you which could include allowing you to work from home or more flexible hours where this is operationally possible. If it is not, you may be entitled to unpaid leave and Employment Insurance Benefits (“EI Benefits”).

If your employer has taken steps to reduce the risk of infection from outside sources (e.g. limiting physical contact with members of the public and providing adequate disinfection procedures/materials) and there’s no indication that any employee is currently infected, you may be obliged to continue working in your workplace.

In many cases, employers may simply opt to allow employees to work from home to reduce the risk of spreading any infection. You may wish to check with your employer whether there are any policies in place for working from home.

My employer has temporarily laid me off. Is this allowed?

Ontario law does permit temporary lay offs of varying lengths as long as you are recalled within a certain time period. During a temporary lay off you may be eligible for EI Benefits. If you are laid off for longer than the designated time period, your employment would be considered to be terminated and you may be entitled to severance pay.

My employer is closing down their business because of COVID-19. Am I entitled to severance pay?

If your employer declares bankruptcy then you would not be entitled to severance pay. In the absence of this, you would ordinarily be entitled to it and the amount would be determined in accordance with your employment contract, age, length of employment, employment standards law and potentially other factors.

Can my employer reduce my pay/hours/benefits, etc. while the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing?

The employer can make changes to the terms of an employee’s employment with their agreement. Otherwise, an employer cannot force you to accept any significant and harmful changes. Any such changes made could constitute a Constructive Dismissal and you may be entitled to damages. In order to claim Constructive Dismissal, you may be required to leave the workplace and look for another job which may be very difficult given the widespread nature of this pandemic. In some circumstances it might be preferable for you to accept temporary pay reductions so that you can remain employed.

What benefits am I entitled to if I am quarantined/have contracted COVID-19?

If you can still work from home and are permitted to do so by your employer, you should receive your regular rate of pay and any benefits you are normally entitled to. Otherwise, you may be eligible for EI Benefits and short-term disability insurance benefits under group benefits programs. On 11 March 2020, the Federal Government waived the 1 week waiting period for people in quarantine or who have been directed to self-isolate due to COVID-19.

If you choose to quarantine yourself when you do not have any symptoms of COVID-19, have not recently travelled, have not been sent home by your employer and have chosen to do so purely out of fear without any connection to prevailing public health recommendations, you may not be entitled to EI Benefits.

What kind of leave am I entitled to during the COVID-19 pandemic? Am I entitled to paid leave if I have contracted COVID-19?

On March 19, 2020, Ontario legislature passed Bill 186, the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 (“the Act”) which, in very general terms, provides more unpaid leave entitlements to employees whilst a state of emergency is declared and/or an infectious disease (as designated by government regulation) is inhibiting an employee from performing work for a variety of particular reasons. Notably, where you are unable to work because you need to provide care or assistance to a family member, you may be entitled to unpaid leave. Within the category of family members, the Act includes parents, children, siblings, grand-parents as well as in-laws and many other familial connections. You may be required to provide evidence that the requested leave is to provide care for a specified individual but employers are prohibited from requesting medical notes in relation to the new forms of unpaid leave under the Act.

You may be entitled to paid sick leave depending on the terms of your employment contract or your employer’s policies. In light of this pandemic, your employer may choose to extend paid sick leave to you but this would be subject to their discretion.

At Tailor Law, we can help you navigate any employment issues you may be facing during this difficult time. Nothing in this article should be considered or relied on as legal advice or opinion. This article only provides general information and should you require assistance, please contact ourselves to book a free initial consultation. At this time, we are only offering phone consultations. 

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