Employment rights for employees during the second wave of COVID-19

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As the second wave of COVID-19 continues to grow in Ontario and British Columbia, prompting restrictions on business openings, many employees will run into conflicts with their employers.

Here are four of the most commonly asked questions my employment law firm has been helping employees with since the outset of the pandemic.

My employer wants to put me on another temporary layoff due to COVID-19. Can I refuse?

Contrary to popular belief, your employer does not automatically have the right to place you on a temporary layoff.

By agreeing to a temporary layoff even one time, however, you may be creating an implied term in your employment contract that your employer has the right to place you on a layoff in the future. This is why it’s important to know your rights before your employer tries to place you on a temporary layoff.

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If you have never been placed on a temporary layoff, tell your employer in writing that you do not agree to one. If your employer insists that the layoff is necessary, confirm once again in writing that you do not accept the proposed change to your job. If the company insists on moving ahead with the layoff, you should contact my team immediately to pursue a constructive dismissal for severance pay.

If you agree to be placed on a temporary layoff, tell your employer in writing that your acceptance is for one time only, to help them through the pandemic, and that it does not give your employer the right to place you on another layoff in the future.

I was just let go from my job permanently because of the ongoing pandemic. Does the company have to pay me severance?

The pandemic does not relieve your employer of its responsibility to give severance pay to terminated employees.

Many companies believe that they get a free pass on providing severance packages because of the difficult economic circumstances they may be facing. This is not the case. If a particular industry is in a slump, and new job prospects are slim, an employee is actually entitled to a larger severance package.

READ MORE: Severance pay in a bad economy

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Depending on the terms of your employment contract and your particular situation, you are entitled to a range of severance, which could be as much as 24 months’ pay. Before you accept an offer from your employer, contact my team or use the Severance Pay Calculator to find out what you’re actually owed.

Because of the COVID-19 second wave, my employer says they have no choice but to cut my pay drastically. Can I stop them?

Your employer does not have an automatic right to cut your pay or change your hours significantly. It would likely be a breach of any written or verbal employment understanding that you and your employer agreed to when you started working for them.

You can tell your employer in writing that you do not agree to a cut in hours or pay. This may be enough to stop the company from following through with making unwanted changes to your job.

If they proceed with the change despite your protests, you may claim constructive dismissal and pursue your full severance entitlements.

READ MORE: 5 vital facts about severance pay you probably weren’t aware of

Can my boss make me sign a new contract during the pandemic?

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No, your employer can’t make you accept a new contract in response to COVID-19.

New employment agreements often benefit the employer, not the employee. They may contain termination clauses that limit severance amounts if you’re let go from your job. They may also contain terms that restrict your rights around salary, responsibilities and temporary layoffs.

READ MORE: What you need to know before you sign an employment contract

If your employer is asking you to sign an updated contract, they must provide you with a bonus of some type to validate the agreement.

Before you accept any new employment contract, have an employment lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP review the agreement to find out how it impacts your job and how to best respond. If you’re not prepared to accept the new terms, and yet the changes are imposed on you anyway, you may be able to claim constructive dismissal and obtain compensation.

Has your job been affected by COVID-19? Do you have questions about layoffs, severance pay and other employment rights during the pandemic?

Contact the firm or call 1-855-821-5900 to secure assistance from an employment lawyer in Ontario or British Columbia. Get the advice you need — and the compensation you deserve — during this crisis.

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Lior Samfiru is an employment lawyer and partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, one of Canada’s leading law firms specializing in employment law and disability claims. He hosts Canada’s only Employment Law Show on TV and radio.