Get the answers to common questions our team of HR advisors has been asked since news of the coronavirus broke. As an employer or HR professional, this virus could be affecting your staff and your business.
The Canadian response to COVID-19 is changing rapidly. Common questions circulating last week may no longer be applicable today. We are in unprecedented times, when normal practices and legislation are not necessarily relevant.
As your trusted HR partner, we are working diligently to provide you timely updates and adjust to the changing conditions. We are Canadian, and in times like these, we need to pull together (albeit remotely) to support our workers, colleagues, communities, and businesses.
Note: This information is intended as best practice guidance, not as medical or legal advice. Information about the coronavirus changes rapidly. Always refer to a public health authority for medical advice, and consult legal counsel regarding legislative concerns.
Almost all jurisdictions across Canada have introduced strategies and recommendations for social distancing. Our job as Canadians is to help slow the spread so that our communities stay healthy and our health care system stays available for those in urgent need. With this in mind, even if your jurisdiction hasn’t ordered a halt to requesting medical notes, you should stop asking for them. Having an employee visit a clinic, hospital, or doctor’s office to request a medical note opens the employee up to potential exposure to COVID-19 and may spread the virus if the employee is already infected.
Government figures and public health officials recommend that anyone returning from travel should self-isolate for a period of 14 days. This is no longer a business decision but a requirement being communicated by health authorities (such as local health units) across Canada. The Canadian government advises that anyone who has travelled outside of Canada self-isolate for 14 days upon return, whether they have symptoms or not. Employers can consider letting the employee work remotely until it is confirmed they are not sick.
If you have an employee who feels that they may have been exposed to the virus (e.g., they have recently visited friends or family who returned from international travel, and they would like to self-isolate for 14 days), your organization should support their self-isolation.
If you have an employee who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19 (these include many of the same symptoms of the common cold or flu), you should support the employee and encourage them to self-isolate for 14 days.
This is an interesting question and one whose answer is not as clear-cut as it would have been even a week ago.
First, if you have paid sick days, self-isolating employees should be able to access and use those days.
If you can enable working from home, set this up for the employee so that they are still contributing. Keeping in mind that you will need strategies for getting them remote access. This may mean packaging up their computer, laptop, or other needed items and determining a way to drop them off without direct hand-off, like leaving items in a garage or on a porch and watching from a distance to confirm pick-up, for example;
Depending on the role and circumstances, you may want to look at placing the employee on sick leave or even considering a temporary layoff so that the employee can remotely file for unemployment to cover the missed time.
When issuing a Record of Employment (ROE), the following codes may be applicable:
On a side note, before this crisis, if a business was to force an employee to stay away without pay, this would have the potential for a constructive dismissal case, especially if the business never discussed temporary layoffs within their employment contracts. With the rapid changes that are affecting every business in different ways, this is no longer an isolated individual business decision, but a societal decision. Businesses should work with their employees to determine a reasonable solution and attempt to mitigate financial effects, whether that means using paid sick time, working remotely, or supporting the employee to apply for unemployment. Consider all strategies and evaluate them against what is reasonable for your situation and your organization.
Vacation time is one strategy for employees to continue to receive pay during a time when pay may not be available; however, a business should not force employees to use vacation time. Vacation time is intended for employees to take a break from work and relax. Forcing employees to deplete their vacation entitlements during this time directly prevents the employee from using vacation later.
If the employee requests the use of some of their vacation time in order to receive payment or focus on the health of their family, businesses should consider and enable this usage. To reiterate, though, you should only consider this usage if the employee requests it.
Testing for COVID-19 varies from one jurisdiction to another, with many setting up testing and assessment sites within communities. Many of the testing sites have been set up as drive-throughs to limit the spread of the virus, if possible.
It is important to note that individuals looking for testing may not be able to just walk into an assessment site but may have to follow applicable health guidelines. For example, the government of Ontario has have developed a self-assessment to support Ontarians with next steps.
Before going to get tested, it is important that individuals look to the guidelines within their jurisdiction to ensure that they follow the recommended steps.
This question is affecting many businesses today, so you are not alone.
If you need to shut your doors during this time, the business may need to look at issuing temporary layoffs. A temporary layoff is not considered a termination of employment unless it exceeds the maximum length specified in your jurisdiction’s employment standards legislation. Employees affected by temporary layoffs are still your employees, and the employer–employee relationship still exists. Check your provincial employment standards legislation to follow temporary layoff guidelines.
Please be mindful that everyone must do what they can during this time. If your business needs to issue a temporary layoff immediately, do this by providing written notification and developing a communication strategy to keep your employees in the loop.
Once you announce a temporary layoff, you need to complete a Record of Employment (ROE) for all employees you have laid off. The code for the ROE for a temporary layoff is Code A: Shortage of Work.
Another strategy is to consider remote work if possible. Any functions that employees can handle offsite should be moved to remote work arrangements.
You may also want to consider offering a variety of solutions, such as reduced hours, flexible hours, or asking whether employees would like to a take a voluntary temporary layoff.
Regardless of the approach, communicating with your employees is critical. It is a good idea to pose the problems and look for strategies and feedback.
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