Returning to work – COVID- 19: What are my rights as an employee

Disclaimer: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. This site is for general informational purposes only.

With businesses re-opening, you are probably wondering what your rights are as an employee. Businesses are regulated federally or provincially. For federal businesses, such as banks, the Canada Labour Code applies, while provincially regulated businesses are governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Each employer is obligated to provide a safe work environment, in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Canada Labour Code.

The definition of “safe” will vary depending on each workplace. For example, the safety measures taken at a retail store where there is constant interaction with the public will be different than those taken at an office space where everyone is in their own cubicles with no public interaction.

Safety measures may include, providing safety gear, such as masks, gloves, sanitizer, plexy glass installed, spaced out desks, staggered work shifts, etc. If physical distancing is not possible, employers will make every effort to ensure the space is as clean as possible.

If your employer has implemented the proper precautions, you cannot refuse to go to work. You should go to work and evaluate the workplace situation before refusing any unsafe work. You need a legitimate reason not to return to work. It cannot be based on just fear. Employers do have a duty to accommodate medical leave or family related challenges, such as child care. However, fear of COVID-19 is not sufficient.

If you do feel uncomfortable at work or you have health conditions that may jeopardize your well being, report the concern to your manager. They should take the necessary steps to investigate and address your concern. They may determine there is no safety concern, or they will make adjustments.

If you need legal advice about your specific case, call us at 647-936-2529 for a legal opinion.