Labour Program and federally regulated workplaces – COVID-19

From: Employment and Social Development Canada

With the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), employers and employees in federally regulated workplaces may face significant disruptions in the workplace. We are monitoring the impact of COVID-19 closely and taking it very seriously.

Employers should be aware of the legal framework within which they can prepare for, manage and address developments caused by the spread of this virus. It is important to ensure employers meet their workplace obligations and protect employee rights.

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Roles and responsibilities

The Labour Program is responsible for administering Part II of the Canada Labour Code (the Code).

The Public Health Agency of Canada is responsible for preparing for and responding to any infectious disease emergencies that may happen in Canada.

Employer responsibilities under Part II of the Canada Labour Code

As an employer, you are responsible for protecting the health and safety of your employees at work. You are required to implement preventative measures to ensure your employees are not exposed to conditions that could be harmful to their health or safety while working.

Provision of protective equipment – Employer responsibilities

As a federally regulated employer, you are responsible to protect the health and safety of your employees under the Canada Labour Code, Part II. You may provide respiratory protection and other protective equipment to your employees to ensure their health and safety, following an analysis of hazards present in your workplace.

Currently, it may be difficult for you to get the protective equipment normally used in your workplace. Consult the following if you are a federally regulated employer who is not able to get this protective equipment through your usual supply chains:

Updating or creating a hazard prevention program

Hazard prevention programs are prepared in response to the hazards at a particular workplace.

As an employer, you are required to update or create your own hazard prevention programs, You are require to update your hazard prevention program to address a biological hazard such as COVID-19.

Workplace parties should consider whether doing certain tasks puts employees at greater risk of exposure to coronavirus.

When the workplace identifies a new hazard such as COVID-19, employers must:

  • develop and implement changes to the workplace hazard prevention program, and
  • monitor their effectiveness

Supporting the Internal Responsibility System, the employer must make all revisions to the Workplace Hazard Prevention Program by consulting with:

  • the policy health and safety committee
  • the workplace health and safety committee, or
  • the workplace health and safety representative

If personal protective equipment is required, employers must:

  • inform the employees
  • provide training and procedures on how to use the equipment, and
  • keep training records

Responsibilities of employees include:

  • following safety procedures
  • using safety equipment, devices and clothing as required, and
  • reporting any safety issues to management

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has prepared a fact sheet with information on what workplaces can do to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

Employee rights under Part II of the Canada Labour Code

Under the Code, employees have the following 3 basic rights:

  • the right to know
  • the right to participate, and
  • the right to refuse dangerous work

Definition of danger

"any hazard, condition or activity that could reasonably be expected to be an imminent or serious threat to the life or health of a person exposed to it before the hazard or condition can be corrected or the activity altered."

Read the full definition of danger.

More information on the right to refuse dangerous work and the investigation process: Right to refuse dangerous work.

Mental health

During the COVID-19 pandemic, employees may be experiencing:

  • a high degree of uncertainty
  • worry
  • anxiety, and
  • stress about the health and safety of their loved ones and themselves

Employees may also be experiencing disruptions to their work and personal lives. Some may also be experiencing harmful behaviours from colleagues.

Employers must address these behaviours in the workplace's violence prevention policy. The policy addresses factors, which are components of psychological violence, such as:

  • bullying
  • teasing, and
  • other aggressive behaviour

To learn more about how to address psychological violence in the workplace:

Resources and tools to support mental health in the workplace

The following lists offer online tools and resources on mental health. The resources can help support both employees and employers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For employees:
For employers:

Reporting requirements

Employees are required to report hazardous occurrences to their employer. This includes reporting their own potential exposure to COVID-19 that caused or is likely to cause illness to themselves or to any other person.

Employers are required to:

  • report continued refusals to work to the Labour Program as soon as possible once all workplace investigations have taken place
    • contact the Labour Program at 1-800-641-4049 (toll free). An official delegated by the Minister of Labour will follow up with employers to review Code requirements related to refusals to work
  • investigate instances of employees with confirmed COVID-19 resulting in exposure to other employees, and for preventing recurrence of exposure, and
  • report known cases of employees confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 in the workplace using the Hazardous Occurrence Investigation Report

COVID-19 measures, updates, and guidance related to occupational health and safety

Face coverings in the transportation sector

Transport Canada is expanding the requirements for the use of face coverings by workers, passengers and other players involved in the transportation sector. Face coverings can reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

For more information, consult the following:

Hazard alert on cleaning products imported from the United States

To avoid a shortage of cleaning products used in workplaces, Health Canada has put in place interim measures. These interim measures make it easier for Canadian workplaces to import cleaning products from the United States. Should these products appear in your workplace, consult the Labour Program Hazard Alert: Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) – Temporary changes related to COVID-19. This hazard alert will help you understand how these interim measures may affect your workplace.

Temporary measures under Part III of the Canada Labour Code

The Government of Canada put in place temporary measures to support workers and businesses facing hardship because of COVID-19.

Extension of lay-off periods (new as of June 22, 2020)

In response to COVID-19, certain lay-off periods established under the Canada Labour Standards Regulations are temporarily extended.

This temporary extension of lay-off periods gives greater protection to federally regulated workplaces and provides employers more time to recall employees laid-off due to COVID-19.

Prior to this temporary extension of lay-off periods, employees could be laid-off for up to 3 months, or up to 6 months if a recall date is provided in a written notice at the time of the lay-off. After these time periods, the lay-off becomes a termination.

The allowable time before a lay-off is considered a termination is temporarily extended as follows:

  • employees laid off for a period of 3 months or less
    • by 6 months for employees laid off prior to March 31, 2020
    • to December 30, 2020 for employees laid off between March 31, 2020 and September 30, 2020
  • employees laid off for more than 3 months with a fixed recall date or a fixed period within 6 months
    • by 6 months or until December 30, 2020, whichever occurs first, for employees laid off prior to March 31, 2020
    • to December 30, 2020 for employees laid off between the period of March 31, 2020 and September 30, 2020, where the fixed date or fixed period specified in the written notice occurs before December 30, 2020
    • until the recall date where the fixed date or fixed period specified in the written notice occurs on or after December 30, 2020

Employers can call their employees back to work at any time, regardless of this extension.

After September 30, 2020, the temporary extension of lay-off periods will no longer apply.

The temporary extension of lay-off periods does not apply to employees who are:

  • covered by a collective agreement that contains:
    • recall rights
    • a minimum work guarantee
  • on strike or a lock out
  • receiving employer payments (for example, employer continues to provide payment for retention purposes)
  • receiving employer benefits (for example, pension plan or insurance plan)
  • receiving or eligible for supplementary unemployment benefits
  • terminated prior to the coming into force of these changes

Employers who intend to use this temporary extension should inform their employees of their intention as soon as possible. They should do so by providing a new written notice with the new recall date.

At any point, if an employee's employment is terminated, the employer must pay the following to the eligible employee, as outlined in the Code:

  • termination pay, and
  • severance pay

The duration of the employee's lay-off continues to count towards their continuity of employment. This means it will factor into the calculations for their termination pay and severance pay.

For more information, consult:

Leave related to COVID-19 (extra 8 weeks available as of July 10, 2020)

Important: The maximum allowable length of leave related to COVID-19 has been extended from 16 weeks to 24 weeks. This aligns with the recent increase to the maximum number of weeks a worker is eligible to receive in Canada Emergency Response Benefit payments.

Employees working in a federally regulated workplace are entitled to up to 24 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave if they are unable or unavailable to work due to COVID-19. For example, employees may take this leave if they are:

  • being quarantined or asked to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19
  • being required to provide care to a family member as a result of COVID-19, or
  • otherwise unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19

To take this leave, employees must:

  • provide their employer with written notice, as soon as possible, of the reason for the leave and the length of leave they intend to take, and
  • notify their employer in writing, as soon as possible, of any changes to the length of the leave

While they are on leave, employees may have access to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Note: This leave is on a temporary basis and is not retroactive. On October 1, 2020, this leave will be repealed.

The Code establishes minimum requirements. If a collective agreement or arrangement providing better protections exists, the most favourable provisions apply.

For more information, consult:

Temporary removal of medical certificate requirements (effective March 25, 2020)

In response to the COVID-19 emergency, as a temporary measure, employees are not required to provide a medical certificate to take the following leaves:

  • medical leave
  • compassionate care leave
  • leave related to critical illness (note: Employeesare also not required to provide documentation in support of the reasons for the leave or change in the length of the leave)

On September 30, 2020, medical certificate requirements will be reinstated.

About coronavirus (COVID-19) and resources for employers and employees

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people and others cause illness in animals. Human coronaviruses are common and are typically associated with mild illnesses, similar to the common cold.

Information about coronavirus and prevention for employers and employees:

Information on workplace health and safety, and federal labour standards:

Contact the Labour Program

If you are an employer or employee in a federally regulated workplace and you have concerns or questions about coronavirus, please contact the Labour Program at:

  • 1-800-641-4049 (toll-free)
  • Teletypewriter (TTY): 1-800-926-9105

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