Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Your rights and responsibilities as an employee

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Your rights as an employee

As an employee, you are still expected to report to work in the context of COVID-19. However, managers are to consider on-site work only if the work meets the definition of critical service and working remotely to support it is not feasible.

You have specific rights related to working conditions and leave provisions that are outlined in collective agreements and Treasury Board policies. If you need help understanding these provisions, you should talk to their manager/supervisor or their union representative.

In addition, employees have three specific rights stemming from the Canada Labour Code, Part II, in relation to their health and safety in the workplace:

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

Employment and Social Development Canada's Labour Program created a brochure, Pamphlet 1 – Summary Health and Safety, which contains general information on the Code, Part II. The three rights mentioned are explained in this brochure.

The right to refuse work for health and safety reasons

Under the Canada Labour Code, employees have the right to refuse to do a job if there is reasonable cause to believe that the job presents a danger to themselves or another employee. Employees must be at work in order to legitimately refuse to work.

Part II of the Code, which deals with health and safety in the workplace, sets out steps for you to follow. Employment and Social Development Canada's Labour Program created a brochure, Pamphlet 4 – Right to Refuse Dangerous Work that explains the process.

The collection of your personal health and travel information

Because COVID-19 constitutes a workplace hazard under the Canada Labour Code your employer can lawfully request that you provide information regarding COVID-19, to the extent that it directly relates to ensuring the health and safety of employees in the workplace.

Based on these requirements and advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the employer can request the following information:

  1. If you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 in the workplace (so that you can be asked to go home to self-isolate).
  2. If you are undergoing COVID-19 testing and the result of that testing, and if you were present in the workplace while potentially infected.
  3. If you were in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, as it is recommended that such a person would have to self-isolate (and therefore take leave and/or telework).
  4. If you have travelled internationally in the last 14 days.

Finally, your employer may follow up with you to ensure a return to work when it is safe to do so.

Your responsibilities as an employee

You have the responsibility to inform yourself by consulting information provided by health authorities and by their employer, such as 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19): Outbreak update. You are responsible for following your management's directions regarding reporting to work and workplace health procedures in the context of the COVID-19.

Section 126 of the Canada Labour Code outlines reasonable expectations for all employees regardless of their position in the organization. Your duties include, among others:

  • using safety equipment provided to you
  • complying with all instructions from the employer concerning the health and safety of employees
  • cooperating with any person carrying out a duty set out in the Code

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, and difficulty breathing), you should inform your manager, go home if in the office, and follow the advice of local public health authorities. To avoid spreading the virus to colleagues and clients, if you have symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, and difficulty breathing), you have a duty to isolate as per direction by public health officials and to stay at home as long as you present symptoms or as long as directed by your local public health authority.

Employees must also report to the employer any circumstance in a workplace that is likely to be hazardous to the health or safety of employees or others in the workplace.  This includes reporting their own potential exposure to COVID-19 that caused or is likely to cause illness to the employee or to any other person.

Information for managers

Under the Canada Labour Code, the employer (represented by the manager/supervisor) is responsible for the occupational health and safety of their employees. As such, the employer has an obligation to investigate and report confirmed cases of COVID-19 in order to prevent the recurrence of exposure.

Under the Code, employees also have a role to play to ensure their own occupational health and safety as well as the occupational health and safety of other employees and any person likely to be affected by their acts or omissions. This includes members of the public visiting a federal workplace.

Employment and Social Development Canada's Labour Program created a brochure, Pamphlet 2A - Employer and Employee Duties, which outlines the duties of both the employer and employees under the Code.

Legislation and policy provide that managers are required to provide their employees with a healthy and safe work environment. In the context of COVID-19, managers must remain informed of orders, directions and guidance issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and from their own organizations. They also have an obligation inform their employees of these orders, directions and guidance. Given this, managers are strongly encouraged to assess whether or not telework arrangements are feasible within their organization.

Managers can obtain advice from their Departmental Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator regarding health and safety processes and procedures but, at a minimum, must familiarize themselves with their responsibilities in dealing with an employee's right to refuse dangerous work, and/or health and safety complaint. These processes are set out in the Canada Labour Code and are explained on the Employment and Social Development Canada webpage on occupational health and safety.

If managers need help in determining how to continue delivering critical services, the departmental OHS policy committee, the departmental workplace committee or the health and safety representative, can assist evaluating the workplace, and help managers apply the guidance provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Public Service Occupational Health Program (Health Canada).

Adjusting work schedules

Many collective agreements include flexibilities that managers may apply if they require employees to work to a different work schedule. Departments are advised to review each applicable collective agreement on a case by case basis and leverage the flexibilities available. Although mandatory consultation with bargaining agents is not prescribed in all collective agreements, managers are encouraged to work together with union representatives in a transparent manner to address specific situations.

In cases where departments do not find sufficient flexibility in the collective agreement to meet operational requirements, they are advised to contact the Treasury Board secretariat at questions@tbs-sct.gc.ca.

Employees who have recently returned from travel

All non-essential travel should be avoided. Even so, managers may have employees who have recently returned from travel. If employees have travelled outside Canada, they must self-isolate when they return to Canada.  The Government of Canada has put in place emergency measures that require mandatory 14-day self-isolation for all persons entering Canada, even if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms.  Some provinces and territories may have specific recommendations for certain groups, such as health care workers.  These efforts will help contain the outbreak and limit the spread of COVID-19 in Canada. Please refer to Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Travel advice for the most up-to-date information.

If an employee has been instructed to self-isolate

Situations may arise where an employee contacts you to indicate that they have been asked to self-isolate by local public health authorities for 14 days. In this case, the employee should follow the advice of their local public health authority as to their need for self-isolation and/or testing.

If the employee was in the workplace recently and you have concerns about possible exposure of other employees, work with your Departmental Occupational Health and Safety Coordinators to determine workplace measures. At all times, the privacy of the worker must be respected.

If an employee has symptoms or is diagnosed with COVID-19 in the workplace

These guidelines are provided for departments and agencies, however they should be adapted to the workplace reality of each organization.

  • consult the relevant public health authority in order to obtain guidance on next steps
  • if the employee is/was in the workplace and it is confirmed by a health care provider that the employee is/was infected with the COVID-19, under the Canada Labour Code, this would constitute a workplace hazard
  • contact your Human Resources team. They should share information with other departments that could be co-located in the same building
  • contact the National Service Call Centre at Public Services and Procurement Canada to ensure that the affected areas are cleaned as per their protocol
  • inform local bargaining agents that an employee who was recently in the workplace has symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19 and inform them of the steps taken and the plan of action moving forward
  • determine whether or not to inform your employees of the situation and the direction they need to take
  • depending on the size of the organization it may only be necessary to inform other employees who would have come in direct contact with the infected employee. Or, it may be necessary to inform all employees. These decisions should be made by consulting your Departmental Labour relations and Occupational Health and Safety coordinators
  • regardless of who you decide to inform, keep them updated if information changes
  • report in via the COVID-19 tracking tool

Messaging when someone has symptoms or is diagnosed with COVID-19 in the workplace

Unless there is a demonstrated need to identify the person based on public health official’s advice, it should normally be sufficient for health and safety purposes to state that an (unnamed) person was in the workplace, and that this person was infected, exhibited symptoms, or had been exposed to the virus.  The focus should move to applying infection containment protocols.

If the workplace is small, such that notification that a person is infected/symptomatic/exposed to COVID-19 would identify the individual employee, management could make the notification broader (e.g. someone in the area or the floor, rather than someone in their unit).

Please contact your departmental ATIP/Privacy and/or Labour Relations for further guidance on the handling of employee’s personal information.

In accordance with the Occupational Health Advisory for Federal Public Servants, Public Services and Procurement Canada and your Occupational Health Services unit will conduct an enhanced cleaning of the work area, including common areas.  Employees should self-monitor their own health for symptoms, particularly fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

Remind all employees to continue to follow general hygiene precautions, including:

  • wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • cough and sneeze into your sleeve and not your hands
  • notify your supervisor and stay home if you are sick to avoid spreading illness to others

If an employee has symptoms or is diagnosed with COVID-19 while teleworking

  • if an employee does have symptoms of COVID-19 and they live with others, tell them to stay in a separate room or keep a 2-metre distance
  • employees must consult the relevant public health authority in order to obtain guidance on next steps
  • employees must follow advice of public health officials
  • contact your Human Resources team
  • report via the COVID-19 tracking tool
  • there are no steps to take from an Occupational Health and Safety perspective as this hazard is not in the workplace

Messaging when someone has symptoms or is diagnosed with COVID-19 while teleworking

  • messaging may or may not be required in this situation
  • contact your Human Resources Team for further advice. Depending on the facts of the situation, messaging may or may not be required
  • they should report via the COVID-19 tracking tool

Employee anxiety and stress

Under circumstances such as these, it is natural to experience different levels of anxiety.

Managers/Supervisors should advise employees on what services are available to help them via the 24-7 Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or your departmental coordinator (accessible only on the Government of Canada network), accessing care through the Public Service Healthcare Plan (PSHCP) or using the nationwide Specialized Organizational Services (SOS).

For more information, visit COVID-19 and mental health at work.

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