Labour Program and federally regulated workplaces – COVID-19

From: Employment and Social Development Canada

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) in federally regulated workplaces

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.

Health and safety in the workplace is a shared responsibility. Both employers and employees must take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

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.

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

Employers are responsible for protecting the health and safety of employees at work. They are required to implement preventative measures to ensure employees are not exposed to conditions that could be harmful to their health or safety while working.

Updating or creating a hazard prevention program

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

Employers are required to update or create their own hazard prevention programs, including updating their 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

Employees’ responsibilities 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 COIVD-19.

Hazard alert on cleaning products imported from the United States (COVID-19)

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.

Employee rights under Part II of the Canada Labour Code

Under the Code, employees have 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."

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:

  • Gearing up for Workplace Mental Health, a guide developed by the Trucking HR Canada to support trucking and logistics employers. The guide is available for download on the Trucking HR Canada webpage.

For both employees and employers:

Employees’ rights and leaves of absence

The Code provides employees in federally regulated workplaces with a number of job-protected leaves if they are ill or if they need to take care of their family.

Leave related to COVID-19 (new as of March 25, 2020)

Employees working in a federally regulated workplace are entitled to up to 16 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. Application for this benefit is now available.

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.

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: Employees are 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.

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

What is coronavirus (COVID-19)

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 and updates about coronavirus: Canada.ca/coronavirus

Information and resources

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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