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Do you have to work during the pandemic? Winnipeg labour lawyer lays out options

Benjamin Hecht.
Benjamin Hecht. Pitblado Law
Nervous about COVID-19 and working in an industry that has been deemed an essential service? Are you allowed to just not show up for work during the coronavirus pandemic?
According to labour lawyer Benjamin Hecht of Pitblado Law, if your workplace isn’t doing everything it can to keep you safe, you definitely have options.
“Under the workplace safety and health legislation, a worker always has the right to refuse work, but the key tests relate to whether or not they reasonably believe the work or the workplace constitutes a danger,” Hecht said.
He said the biggest problem employers and employees face is determining whether COVID-19 presents a danger in the workplace. Frontline workers are obviously in a dangerous situation, but not every situation is as clear, he explained.
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“The work in a retail establishment, for example, where you see them practising social distancing, it’s difficult to say that is dangerous, but there may well be risk.”

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If an employer is taking every reasonable measure to keep workers safe, it’s more of a grey area, he said.

Hecht addressed a situation in which an employer might be doing everything to protect employees, but employees say they’re nervous to go to work because they still don’t feel safe.

“In that instance, you really have a difficult situation,” he said. “In the old world, which seems like years ago, an employer may well have said, ‘You have to quit or I’m firing you.’ Nobody’s going to do that today. But the options available to the employee are not great, either.”

Maybe, said Hecht, the employee will be able to collect government assistance, or even get a layoff from the employer.
“But they’re not going to let you go home and pay you to go home when there’s nothing more reasonable the employer can do to satisfy that employee’s concern.”
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Unemployment during COVID-19
Unemployment during COVID-19