COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions and Resources
Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions we have received from members in relation to the public health emergency related to COVID-19.
COVID-19 is a rapidly developing public health emergency and our response will in large part be dictated by the advice of public health officials. We are asking our members to pay attention to and follow public health advice in their own city and province as the situation rapidly evolves.
Before calling your Business Agent, please review this list of frequently asked questions.
This post was last updated at 1:37 pm EST 2020-04-23. It will be edited frequently as the situation develops.
Your Rights at Work
A frequent question raised by our members has been the availability of masks in the workplace as Personal Protective Equipment. As outlined above, every employer is required to take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers. SEIU Local 2’s position is that non-medical masks are the minimum reasonable Personal Protective Equipment that workplaces operating with staff on-site should be enforcing to maintain a safe working environment during the COVID-19 emergency. Some workplaces, due to the nature of the work, may demand better precautions.
“With the emerging information regarding pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission, and our goal to stop the spread of COVID-19 by all means possible, wearing a non-medical mask—even if you have no symptoms―is an additional measure you can take to try to protect others around you.” – Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health Communication
We understand that there are ongoing difficulties obtaining supplies of non-medical masks, particularly in quantities for safe, single-use application. Without compromising on our expectation that every employer provide, at minimum, non-medical masks for use in the workplace, SEIU Local 2’s position is that there are comparable alternatives that can be obtained or produced as a stop-gap measure until adequate stocks of non-medical masks are acquired.
Any Personal Protective Equipment requires instruction before workers can be expected to use the equipment safely. Employers are expected to provide such instruction on safe application, use, and disposal of Personal Protective Equipment, including non-medical masks.
While the refusal is underway pending a decision of the MoL H&S Inspector, the refusing worker can be assigned reasonable alternative work (so long as it’s consistent with Section 50 as referenced below) during the worker’s regular hours.
While the refusal is underway, another worker can be asked to perform the work of the refusing worker so long as the 2nd worker has been informed of the refusal and reason why and this must be done in the presence of the Worker H&S Rep (who should obviously be advising the 2nd worker to also exercise his/her legal right to refuse until the Ministry H&S Inspector has investigated and issued a decision)
Any discipline, threat of discipline, imposition of any penalty, or coercion or intimidation of a refusing worker is illegal as per Section 50 “Reprisals By Employer Prohibited’’. The failure to pay a refusing worker while the refusal is underway may be a prohibited reprisal, depending on the circumstances.
Finally, to ensure protection for any employees exercising the right to refuse, members should also be told the following:
- The member needs to tell their Supervisor immediately that they are exercising their right to refuse (at the time of the refusal as opposed to telling the boss the next day you didn’t do something yesterday because of safety concerns),
- The member needs to clearly convey to their manager that their refusal is based on health or safety reason/concerns (not simply because you don’t like it or don’t want to do it and say later it was for safety reasons); and,
- Members must exercise the right to refuse on an individual basis (i.e. no “group refusals” allowed by one spokesperson/Steward/Safety Rep telling the boss on behalf of the others).
If a worker is going to refuse unsafe work, they must follow the proper process to avoid discipline. The process under Ontario’s legislation is as follows:
Documents and Resources
The Ministry of Health (Ontario) has produced a number of guidance documents, including appropriate OH&S measures for healthcare workers in a variety of settings, including long-term care and community environments.
In British Columbia, all work by “must be carried out without undue risk of injury or occupational disease to any person” (Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, section 2.2, “OHSR”).
What constitutes undue risk will largely be determined by the guidelines released by the government.
Also any guidelines put out by the relevant municipality will also likely guide what does and does not constitute an undue risk.
- Employers have an obligation to remedy any unsafe or harmful condition without delay – OHSR section 3.9
- Any person that observes an apparent unsafe or harmful condition or act must report it as soon as possible to a supervisor or employer – OHSR section 10
- If emergency action is required to correct a condition which constitutes an immediate threat, which seemingly could include cleaning a potentially infected site, only workers who are properly qualified and instructed that are necessary to correct the unsafe condition may be exposed to the hazard – OHSR section 3.11
- Our members, without proper protective gear and sufficient training, should not be cleaning sites that have known or are suspected to be contaminated with COVID-19.
All employees in BC must refuse work if they believe it presents an undue hazard to the health and safety of any person (WorkSafe Guidelines G3.12).
No worker can be subjected to disciplinary actions against for following the steps above.
When a worker refuses work due to safety concerns, to avoid discipline they must (OHSR section 3.12):
Documents and Resources
For BC specific information please consult the WorkSafe BC’s website at
On March 22, 2020, Nova Scotia declared a State of Emergency under the Emergency Management Act, and the Chief Medical Officer made the following orders among others under the Health Protection Act:
- Social gatherings of more than five people are prohibited.
- Any workplace or business that is not deemed essential can remain open as long as a two-metre or six-foot distance can be maintained. Workspaces must also be cleaned and disinfected at a minimum of twice daily or as required and employees must follow proper hygiene.
The Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) entitles employees to refuse work if they have “reasonable grounds for believing that the act is likely to endanger the employee’s health or safety or the health or safety of any other person.” Whether an employee has reasonable grounds for believing that work is likely to endanger their own or someone else’s health is assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Relevant factors include but are not limited to:
- whether there have been any suspected or confirmed cases of the new coronavirus at the workplace;
- whether anyone in the workplace has travelled outside the Province within the previous 14 days;
- the employee’s age;
- whether the employee has any underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable;
- if the employee is pregnant or breastfeeding; and
- if the employer has provided equipment or imposed policies to protect the employee
Additionally, in Nova Scotia the right to refuse unsafe work cannot be exercised under certain circumstances, most notably (1) where the refusal places the life, health or safety of another person in danger or (2) where the danger is inherent to the employee’s work. If you are an employee in a health care setting or providing an essential service, your right to refuse unsafe work may therefore be limited.
If a worker is going to refuse unsafe work, to avoid discipline they must follow the proper procedure. The OHSA sets out the procedure whereby employees can exercise their right to refuse work. The process can be summarized as follows:
If the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee has unanimously advised the employee to return to work, the employee must do so or risk not being paid, even if they appeal to the Occupational Health and Safety Division.
An employer may reassign an employee who has refused unsafe work to alternative duties during the period of their work refusal, subject to any relevant restrictions in the applicable employment contract.
An employee who has concerns about workplace safety should bring those concerns to their supervisor or joint occupational health and safety committee as soon as possible.
Other things you should know:
- Until this work refusal process is complete, the employer cannot force you to do the work that you have refused.
- If you have refused unsafe work, the law requires that you continue to be paid. The employer may assign you different work but even if they do not, they still must pay your wages until the process is finished.
- During the work refusal process in Nova Scotia, the employer may reassign the work you refused to someone else. But they can only do so if they advise that person: (1) that someone has refused the work because they believe it is unsafe; and (2) that they also have the legal right to refuse the work.
- The law prohibits the employer from penalizing you for refusing unsafe work. If you think you are being punished because you exercised your right to refuse unsafe work, you can file a complaint. Please contact your union representative for more information in that circumstance.
Documents and Resources
For information on proper procedures to follow in Nova Scotia
The Department of Health and Wellness also has a number of pre-existing guidance documents regarding OH&S protocols for workers in a variety of settings, many of which are available at:
The Province of Nova Scotia has published a fact sheet on cleaning and disinfecting businesses, available at:
These measures will likely be important in determining whether an employee has reasonable grounds for believing that their health or safety are at risk due to COVID-19.
A general fear of contracting the new coronavirus within the workplace, without further reasons, will not likely in itself constitute reasonable grounds for a refusal in Nova Scotia. Nevertheless, the situation is changing rapidly. Members should pay close attention to all current government directives:
Employees that have been denied access to the workplace by their employer should follow the “work now, grieve later rule”, meaning they should obey their employer’s direction, and grieve if the employer has violated the employees’ rights under the collective agreement or statute.
Generally, employers have the right to tell an employee to go home if they are in fact sick. If an employer has grounds to question an employees’ fitness for work, they can insist that employees provide a medical certificate as proof they are fit to attend work.
If your employer has denied you access to the workplace because you may have been exposed to COVID-19 but are not showing symptoms, then you should claim any sick pay or EI benefits that are available. If you think the decision by your employer is inconsistent with the most recent available public health advice from federal, provincial and local authorities, please contact a union Business Agent.
Employers have a duty to accommodate employees on the grounds of family status to the point of undue hardship. This includes a duty to accommodate childcare/eldercare obligations. This may require employer to permit employees to stay home, or where feasible consider flexible working arrangements such as working from home, depending on the circumstances. The Ontario Human Rights Commission released a statement March 13, 2020 which includes the following:
“An employee who has care-giving responsibilities should be accommodated to the point of undue hardship, which might include staying home. These care-giving responsibilities which relate to the Code ground of family status could include situations where another family member is ill or in self-isolation, or where their child’s school is closed due to COVID-19.”
See the full statement from the Ontario Human Rights Commission here: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/news_centre/ohrc-policy-statement-covid-19-pandemic
There has been no similar statement in BC or Nova Scotia, but the above is almost certainly applicable to other provinces.
In addition, your specific collective agreement may contain leaves applicable to the circumstances. Permitting employees to access leaves of absence negotiated under the collective agreement may also be part of the necessary accommodation. The leaves available in applicable employment standards legislation may also be applicable, but in many circumstances the collective agreement provisions will provide a greater benefit.
In Ontario, workers can qualify for Infectious Disease Emergency Leave in order to care or provide support to a family member. For more information, see the FAQ: If I miss work for a reason related to COVID-19, will I still have a job?
Infectious Disease Emergency Leave applies in the following circumstances:
- If your employer directs you to stay home due to a concern you will expose others in the workplace to COVID-19;
- If you are under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19;
- If by staying home, you are acting in accordance with an order from a medical officer of health;
- If you have been directed into isolation or quarantine;
- If you are in quarantine, self-isolation, or subject to any other control measure in accordance with any direction or information from a public health official, a health practitioner, telehealth, board of health or any level of government;
- If you cannot return to Ontario due to travel restrictions.
- If you need to provide care or support (including psychological support) to a person for a reason related to an COVID-19 (e.g. a school or day-care closure), including to:
- The employee’s spouse;
- A parent, step-parent or foster parent of the employee or the employee’s spouse;
- A child, step-child or foster child of the employee or the employee’s spouse;
- A grandparent, step-grandparent, grandchild or step-grandchild of the employee or of the employee’s spouse;
- The spouse of a child of the employee;
- The employee’s brother or sister; or
- A relative of the employee who is dependent on the employee for care or assistance.
The leave will last for as long as you are not able to perform your work for reasons related to COVID-19, or until the provincial government no longer designates COVID-19 as an infectious disease for the purposes of this new legislation.
The amendments are retroactive to January 25, 2020. This will entitle any employee that has lost their job due any of the above reasons since January 25, 2020 to reinstatement.
This leave is significant, because it enables employees to access leave when acting in accordance with public health information that has been generally issued to the public from a government source or official. It relieves individual employees from the need to get a doctor’s note or note from public health in order to protect their job. For example:
“Given the greater risk of severe outcomes to Ontarians who are elderly, I am also strongly recommending that individuals over 70 years of age self-isolate. This means only leaving home or seeing other people for essential reasons. Where possible, you should seek services over the phone or internet or ask for help from friends, family or neighbours with essential errands. This also applies to individuals who have compromised immune systems and/or underlying medical conditions.”
It is important to note it does not protect employees who are acting based on non-prescribed sources of information or misinformation.
Employees that take this leave have the right to reinstatement when the leave is over. They must be placed in the same position if available, or a comparable one if not.
The rate of pay upon reinstatement must be either the same, or what it would have been had they not taken leave – whichever is greater.
Employees have the right to continue participating in their benefit plans (including pension plans) while on leave, unless they elect not to do so in writing. The employer continues to be responsible for their respective portions of any required benefits or pension contributions.
Employees are entitled to take their vacation pay during any unpaid ESA leave.
The BC government is introducing amendments to the Employment Standards Act in response to COVID-19.
A worker will be entitled to unpaid “COVID-19 related leave” without penalty if any of the following apply:
- The worker has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
- The worker is in quarantine or self-isolation in accordance with the guidelines of the BC Centre for Disease Control or the guidelines of the Public Health Agency of Canada;
- the employer, due to the employer’s concern about the employee’s exposure to others, has directed the employee not to work;
- the employee is providing care to a child or dependent, including because of the closure of a school or daycare or similar facility; or
- the employee is outside the province and cannot return to British Columbia because of travel or border restrictions.
This leave applies for as long as the circumstance requiring the leave persists. Note that an employer can request “reasonably sufficient proof” that the circumstance applies to the employee. The employer cannot request a medical note.
Your employer cannot terminate you or change a condition of your employment without your consent while you are on leave. Subject to seniority rights within a collective agreement, your employer must place you back into your previous position or a comparable position after your leave is finished.
No. If you receive a lay-off notice while on leave, the lay-off will not be effective until the leave is over, and you are able to return to work.
You continue to have the right to participate in benefit plans, and your employer will be required to make contributions provided you make any required employee contributions, if any.
Members’ personal medical information should be kept confidential by employers and not spread throughout the workplace. Unauthorized disclosure may violate employees’ rights in a whole litany of ways, including occupational health and safety laws, privacy legislation, common law torts, or collective agreement rights.
On the other hand, employers have an obligation to take every reasonable precaution to protect its workers, which may include informing employees that one of their co-workers has been exposed (or potentially exposed) to COVID-19.
Any infringement on employees’ privacy should be limited to the extent necessary to protect others’ health and safety.
Employment Insurance & Benefits
In the event of layoffs due to temporary closures related to COVID-19, employees can apply for regular Employment Insurance benefits provided they have enough hours to qualify. If the layoff is more than temporary, and depending on how long it lasts, employees may also be entitled to severance pay.
If you are unable to come to work, either because you have been directed by public health, a medical practitioner, or your employer to self-isolate or go into quarantine, then you should also claim any sick pay or weekly indemnity benefits available under your collective agreement.
If you have exhausted your collective agreement benefits, then you may qualify for Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits. At this time, employee must have 600 hours and experience a loss of at least 40% of their income to qualify for EI sick benefits.
The Federal Government has announced it will waive the normal one (1) week waiting period for EI for employees who are in quarantine or have been directed into self-isolation. There are few details at this time, but the waiver of the waiting period does not appear to cover circumstances of voluntary self-isolation, nor employees who are sick but not in quarantine or directed self-isolation.
Workers claiming EI sickness benefits due to quarantine will not have to provide a medical certificate.
Workers who cannot complete their claim for EI sickness benefits due to quarantine may apply later and have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay.
Documents and Resources
Service Canada has indicated employees seeking to have the one (1) week period waived should call their dedicated coronavirus hotline once they have filed a claim online, the details of which can be found on their website:
To file a claim online
Worker’s compensation benefits will not be available for employees placed in quarantine or self-isolation who are not exhibiting symptoms.
Employees who file coronavirus-related workers’ compensation claims will also want to seek to access sick leave and/or EI benefits in case their claims are denied.
These other benefits will need to be paid back if the worker’s compensation claim is approved.
WSIB in Ontario has announced it will be dealing with claims on a case-by-case basis.
Documents and Resources
An individual will not qualify for the CERB if they leave their employment voluntarily.
The CERB will provide workers whose incomes have been disrupted with $2,000 a month for a 4-month period.
On April 15, 2020, the Government expanded eligibility for CERB. The following categories of workers are now eligible:
- Those whose income has been reduced due to COVID-19 and who earn up to a maximum of $1,000 per month can collect the CERB;
- Seasonal workers who have exhausted their EI regular benefits and are unable to undertake their usual seasonal work as result of the COVID-19 outbreak;
- Workers who recently exhausted their EI regular benefits and are unable to find a job or return to work because of COVID-19.
In addition, on April 15, 2020, the federal government announced it will work with the provinces and territories to cost-share a temporary top-up to the salaries of workers deemed essential in the fight against COVID-19, including workers in the long-term care sector, who make less than $2,500 a month. Details as to the application and delivery of this measure will be released shortly following further work with the provinces and territories.
Individuals who applied for EI previously from March 15, 2020 onwards will have their claims automatically processed through the CERB. Beginning April 6, 2020, the government will open a single portal for individuals who wish to apply for the CERB. This portal will be administered though the Canada Revenue Agency’s website or by phone. If you have not set up an account with CRA’s My Account you should do so immediately.
If you presently qualify for EI you should submit that application as soon as possible.
For more information please visit:
For more information on the CERB please visit:
If you are a British Columbia resident and you have been approved for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), it’s likely that you are also eligible for the B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers.
Online applications for the B.C. EBW will open on May 1st, 2020 and telephone applications will open May 4th, 2020.
For more information please visit:
Yes, but you need to have worked the required insurable hours in the 52 weeks leading up to the interruption in earnings. The hours requirement is based on regional unemployment up to a maximum of 700 hours. Any earnings from another job while receiving EI benefits will result in a reduction in the amount of EI benefits an individual receives. An individual can keep 50 cents of EI benefits for every dollar earned or received while on claim, until their earnings reach 90% of the weekly earnings used to establish their claim. Any earnings above this cap are deducted dollar-for-dollar from benefits. It is very important to accurately report any earnings while receiving EI benefits. Documents and Resources For a further description of this please visit:
Yes, but you need to have worked the required insurable hours in the 52 weeks leading up to the interruption in earnings. The hours requirement is based on regional unemployment up to a maximum of 700 hours.
Any earnings from another job while receiving EI benefits will result in a reduction in the amount of EI benefits an individual receives. An individual can keep 50 cents of EI benefits for every dollar earned or received while on claim, until their earnings reach 90% of the weekly earnings used to establish their claim. Any earnings above this cap are deducted dollar-for-dollar from benefits.
It is very important to accurately report any earnings while receiving EI benefits.
Documents and Resources
For a further description of this please visit:
Important Notice regarding benefit coverage for members of the SEIU Locals 1 & 2 BenefitTrust during the COVID-19 Crisis
The Trustees of the SEIU Local 1 & 2 Health and Welfare Trust (hereafter H & W Trust) have taken steps to ensure members of the plan who are off work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be eligible for benefits.
Information for Employees
Members of the plan that are laid off from work, or are on a leave of absence pursuant to the Employment Standards Act (inclusive of the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave), who were eligible for benefits at the time they ceased working, will continue to be eligible for benefit coverage until July 30, 2020
Please direct inquiries about benefits to Global Benefits
The Trustees of the Union’s Benefit Trust have taken steps to ensure workers laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic do not lose their health benefits. All plan participants who are eligible at the time they are laid off will continue to be covered for a minimum three months to bridge workers through the crisis.
If you are laid off:
If you are off work due to illness:
- You must first use any sick days you have under the collective agreement.
- Once you have used up your sick days you can apply for the Weekly Indemnity by contacting the Union office for application forms: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Weekly Indemnity is designed to bridge you to EI Sick Benefits and provide additional coverage for illnesses that extend beyond the period that EI covers.
If you expect that you will be off for more than a week you should apply for EI Sick Benefits immediately.
If you have been laid off but are not sick
For additional resources on Short-Term Disability eligibility and Covid-19
Ontario’s list of essential workplaces that can remain open amid COVID-19 outbreak
On March 23rd the Ontario Government announced the closure of all non-essential workplaces from the period of 11:59 pm Tuesday, March 24th, 2020 for a minimum of 14 days. If this closure had lasted the minimum duration, non-essential workplaces could reopen no earlier than Wednesday, April 8th, 2020. The closure was extended to continue until May 6th, 2020. The Ontario government has cautioned that they will evaluate weekly to determine whether to issue further extensions.
The government has provided a list of essential workplaces, which are not subject to the closure order. The full list is available under “links” to the right.
The government has provided a list of essential workplaces, which are not subject to the closure order. They amended the list effective Sunday, April 5th, 2020.
To assist our members, here a few selected from the list.
For a complete List of Essential Workplaces visit the Government of Ontario website.
The complete List of Essential Workplaces is also available in this CBC article.