Employee Rights in Alberta during COVID-19

woman in mask standing in front of room with many computers

Posted by heritagelaw on Nov 3, 2020 in Blog, Employment Law

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive waves of unrest in the world of employment, leaving employees to worry if their jobs are at risk.

With businesses closing their doors or sending workers home to reduce the spread, government mandates ensure employees are protected from termination.

This doesn’t mean employees can toss aside responsibilities without fear of being fired.

It means those who are willing and able to work will not lose their jobs during the pandemic as long as their place of work remains in operation.

Here are some important ways that employees are protected from termination during COVID-19:

Protected Leave

If an employee is required to quarantine or self-isolate due to catching COVID-19 or being exposed to it, they are eligible for 14 days of unpaid leave.

This is legally granted regardless of their length of employment, meaning that employees who are still in a probationary period are protected.

Employees are also allowed to take this leave more than once, and more than once consecutively, if required.

During this period, employers are not required to pay their employees for this time. However, employees can request their vacation pay or banked overtime during their leave.

Alternative Working Arrangements

It is up to the employer to offer alternative working arrangements during this time to allow their employee to continue their work safely.

This may include working from home or carrying out duties that do not require contact with other people.

If alternate arrangements can’t be made by the employer, employers are not required to schedule employees for work.

However, employees can claim constructive dismissal if they feel their employer is purposefully leaving them off the work schedule in order to get them to quit the job.

If you feel your employer is making changes to your work environment to force a dismissal, you should speak with a professional attorney. Our lawyers at Heritage Law are available to discuss all of your employee rights.

Termination of Employment

During a protected leave from work, employees cannot be terminated or temporarily laid off.

However, there is an exception if the employer suspends operations. In this case, the employer can lay off or terminate any and all employees depending on the situation.

This can occur if circumstances beyond the employer’s controls make retaining their employees impossible. Unfortunately, in this situation, they can terminate employees without notice.

Rights to a Safe Workplace

While employers must maintain a safe and healthy workplace, COVID-19 has forced a change in guidelines that employers now have to adhere to.

Even with these changes, employees still have the right to refuse work, without fear of discipline or termination, if their workplace is not following COVID-19 guidelines for operation.

However, if the employer is properly following the government’s guidelines during the pandemic, employers are still required to report to work even if they don’t feel safe.

In this case, the employer can treat the refusal to work as a resignation and the employee will lose their job.

Wearing a Mask

As masks become more and more mandatory in many places of business for the public, many employers are requiring that their employees wear a mask.

If an employer is requiring mask use in the workplace, employees are obligated to do so. Refusing to wear a mask by an employee can lead to discipline and potential termination (if the disciplinary plan is adhered to properly).

However, if wearing a mask causes a risk to existing health issues, the employee may not be expected to wear one.

Working from Home

Depending on the industry and the nature of the business, employers may allow their employees to work from home.

Keep in mind that, even if working from home is an option, employees are obliged to attend the workplace if the company has taken all reasonable precautions and is following the government’s healthy and safety recommendations.

Alternatively, an employer may require that an employee work from home. In this instance, the employer is responsible for helping to facilitate this transition by providing aid such as equipment, reimbursement and/or training.

When it comes to workplaces that only require a portion of their staff to work from home, the employer has the right to choose which staff members are eligible.

However, they are not allowed to be discriminatory in their choices. For example, they cannot refuse at-home work for a parent because their children are home.

This is considered workplace discrimination and the employer can be punished under the law.

Protecting Your Rights as an Employee

COVID-19 has created a unique and tricky situation for employers and employees throughout Alberta.

Although regulations have been put into place, this doesn’t mean that mistakes won’t be made or laws taken advantage of.

If you feel you have been wrongfully terminated from your job in relation to COVID-19, we recommend that you speak to one of our expert lawyers at Heritage Law.

Contact us today to learn more about your employment rights!