B.C.’s reopening plan: Most common questions from employees

As B.C. launches its reopening plans and businesses ramp up operations, employees may be thinking about their return to the office. The province’s restart plan lays out four phases ending in a return to normal social contact in September.

But the announcement has many employees wondering what their employment rights are in this situation. Here are some of the most common questions my firm has received.

Now that businesses are reopening, can I choose to continue working from home? 

An employee cannot decide to continue working from home if their employer asks them to return to the office. It is ultimately the company’s decision where your work is to be conducted. 

If you need to work from home because of a disability, medical condition or caregiving responsibilities (to your children or parents), you can request accommodation from your employer. The company has a legal obligation to accommodate you to the point of undue hardship. 

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Can my employer make changes to my job when I return?

It is illegal for your employer to make substantial changes to your job regarding your hours, pay or duties. If your role has been substantially altered and your employment contract does not allow for those changes, you can treat those changes as a termination. An employment lawyer at a firm like Samfiru Tumarkin LLP can help you get full severance through what we call a constructive dismissal claim.

READ MORE: Temporary layoffs during the pandemic

Does my employer have to call me back to work?

Your employer must call you back to work if you were placed on a layoff due to COVID-19 once businesses are allowed to reopen. In fact, temporary layoffs are illegal if they are not accounted for in your employment agreement. You can choose not to accept a layoff, treat it as a termination and pursue severance.

Can my employer fire me for getting sick with COVID-19?

No, your employer can’t fire you if you test positive for or become ill due to COVID-19. A termination for this reason would be a breach of your human rights, and you would be entitled to damages for this breach in addition to a full severance package.

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READ MORE: How much severance am I owed in British Columbia?

Do I get paid sick leave if I have COVID-19 and can’t go to work?

The B.C. government recently announced a permanent paid sick leave program to allow workers to take paid time off if they become sick with COVID-19. Paid sick leave also applies if you are in quarantine after contact with a person who is sick with COVID-19, experience symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.

Can my employer force me to take a COVID-19 test?

Employers cannot force you to get a COVID-19 test unless you work in a health-care setting such as a hospital or long-term care facility, where there is an obligation to protect patients from getting the virus.

Can my employer force me to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Employers cannot force you to get the COVID-19 vaccine or make vaccination a mandatory condition of employment. As with testing, there are exceptions, such as health-care settings, where the COVID-19 vaccine could be mandatory.

Can I be fired for refusing to get vaccinated?

An employer can fire employees without cause for almost any non-discriminatory reason. Employers who choose to enact strict vaccination policies for their staff are within their rights to fire those employees who choose not to get the jab. 

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In that case, unvaccinated employees fired without cause would still be owed their full severance pay, which can be up to 24 months’ pay depending on numerous factors.

If an employee decides not to get the vaccine for medical reasons or religious beliefs and they are terminated, their firing could constitute a human rights violation.

READ MORE: What you need to know about wrongful dismissals

Do I get paid if I take time off to get the vaccine?

In B.C., all employees are now able to get up to three hours of paid time off to get the COVID-19 vaccine. This applies to full- and part-time employees.

Can I refuse to return to the workplace if I don’t feel safe? 

When refusing work because they feel their job is unsafe, employees must go through proper channels or risk being deemed to have abandoned their job.

All employers in B.C. have an obligation to follow new and existing public health guidelines and regulations to create a work environment that is safe and protects the health of all their workers. If you have concerns about returning to work, ask your employer what protocols will be in place. 

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If you believe that the company is not taking proper steps to protect staff, you can contact WorkSafeBC, who will investigate the work site and enforce any necessary changes.

Do you have questions about returning to work in B.C.? Have changes been made to your job?

Contact the firm or call 1-855-821-5900 to secure assistance from an employment lawyer in British Columbia, Alberta or Ontario. Get the advice you need — and the compensation you deserve — from the most positively reviewed employment law firm in the country.

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

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