The COVID-19 pandemic has hit every person in the world in different ways and continues to do so. One of the aspects that the pandemic has changed the most is the structure of work and how employers and employees deal with the limitation imposed by a global-scaled pandemic.
The most common change is the adoption of remote working through a home office approach and using apps such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, Discord, and Skype. But what impacts has the COVID-19 pandemic had on employment law and employee rights? In the next following we hope to elucidate those questions.
Employment Law and a Pandemic
It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the workplace structure and how we deal with a situation such as this. And we were not ready to deal with the implications of a global pandemic on the workplace, and we had to change our perspective on how we perceive and act towards the work environment and work relations.
Under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are required to provide a safe workplace for their employees. This safety comes in many forms, and the most applicable one to this scenario is a workplace free from hazards and/or harmful substances. Hazard is defined as “a situation, condition, or thing that may be dangerous to health and safety” and harmful substances as “a substance that, because of its properties, application or presence, creates or could create a danger, including chemical, biological or radiological hazard, to the health and safety of a worker exposed to it”.
In both cases, the COVID-19 virus despite not being a substance that can be considered both hazardous and harmful was highly infectious. As a consequence of this, many employers had to close doors temporarily – what we saw as the lockdown where many public and private spaces were locked to avoid contamination and help stop the pandemic. Many offices started doing Home Office at that time. Every worker had the right, and still has, to know their company’s policies towards COVID-19 – and by consequence of any outbreak that may occur in the future.
While employers may request workers to stay home and work in a home office regime, it cannot be under any discriminatory (race, gender, or religion, for example) criteria. This distinction is important to have for when we started to do a hybrid regime – working home office with eventual office days.
Employers must try their best efforts to support workers that are working at their home office when unable to work from the company’s office. Workers who are doing their usual job are entitled to the same pay and benefits as before.
If an employee gets sick and is unable to work, the employer is not obligated to pay the worker for days they were not able to do their usual duties. Every employee however is entitled to job-protected unpaid sick leave, that is, they are entitled to not work due to sickness while having their job and position protected.
COVID-19 and Considerations
With the pandemic, many workplaces, as well as public and privately owned spaces, started to require vaccination and proof of it. With that privacy concerns started to arise and need to be addressed.
While anyone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 had to self-isolate, the employer must consider the extent of how much is necessary to share with the rest of the company if a hybrid regime was adopted.
Every worker also has the basic right to refuse work if they consider the workplace to be dangerous to them or to their colleagues, if the employee has a reasonable basis to believe so, they can refuse to be present at the office. The employer needs to address each case.
If you are unable to do your duties due to the chance of infection and are unable to perform your role and responsibilities from home, then your entitlement to pay will depend on the terms and conditions of your contract with your employer. Having an employment lawyer calgary with you to review your contract and work towards your best interests and safety is advisable.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a situation that none of us was prepared to deal with, be it as employers or as employees. But with time passing, vaccines being distributed, and the pandemic staying behind us it raises questions on how we will do with a similar situation, should it arise.
New insights on employment law and employee rights appeared with the solutions proposed during the pandemic and it has certainly changed how we perceive the workplace environment and its structure.
Many Canadians suffered during the pandemic both psychologically and financially, and should you believe your rights were not protected during the pandemic, having an employment lawyer with you to assess your case will help greatly and will guarantee you have your rights protected.