Returning to work during COVID-19: What do employment laws permit?


Over the course of the pandemic, employers and employees have had to adapt to changing circumstances both at home and at work. As Canadians reach different stages in their respective provinces, more concerns and questions have arisen regarding their rights.

Toronto employment lawyer Jon Pinkus at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP joins the Roy Green show to address these concerns and more.

What They Discussed

  • If an employee gets called back to work and doesn’t believe its safe, can they demand the right to continue working from home? It is important to bring specific concerns to an employer and if they do not address it, go to an Occupation and Health and Safety officer for inspection.
  • Are employees deeming their workplaces unsafe without inspections? Employers are voicing their concerns over this patter where many employees are concerned about returning to work and are unable to work remotely.
  • Do we have a precedent, like COVID-19, in recent years to garner knowledge from? Unfortunately, there has not been an event like the pandemic to provide any base knowledge on how to proceed in situations like this. Employers and employees are both learning as we go and taking directives from health officials.
  • What does an employer have to do in order for their workplace to be deemed safe? There are guidelines for employers to follow such as allowing employees to work from home if possible. If not, physical distancing and proper PPE at the workplace is vital.
  • What changes if there is a collective agreement in place? A collective agreement can have very specific guidelines such as certain PPE or a different process in resolving health and safety disputes.
  • If there is a second wave of COVID-19, do we have laws in place to properly deal with it? Bill 195 has come into practice as well as Infectious Disease Emergency Leave for employees to use if necessary.
  • What can be said of the education sector moving forward and the repercussions of opening schools? From an employment perspective, legislation currently only gives parents the right to stay home if schools are closed.
  • How does the new EI program affect the employer/employee relationship? Unfortunately, the new Employment Insurance program could cause tension as some employees might prefer to stay at home while their employers expect them to return to work.

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