News & Media

A Message to IBEW Members Concerning COVID-19

March 13, 2020

COVID-19 message from James Barry, IBEW CCO:

Please take the time to read the urgent news on emerging COVID-19 developments which  may potentially affect the IBEW CCO membership and construction industry.  Visit daily as circumstances may change as we learn more. 

The unpredictable and fluid situation concerning COVID-19 is developing daily.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the global outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic. As of March 12, 2020, there are 138 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, and 59 confirmed cases in Ontario. One person has died of COVID-19 in Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada expects all these numbers to increase.

Special issues related to COVID-19 arise in the construction industry because construction workers, unlike some other workers, are referred to their employment from a union “hiring hall”, can be laid off on short notice, cannot “work from home” and do not, typically, have access to paid sick days.
This message, in the form of FAQ’s, is meant to provide general guidance to IBEW members and will be updated from time to time.

Where can one get regular updates on COVID-19?

The Government of Canada’s Public Health Agency

Infection Prevention and Control Canada

Can an employer stop employees who travelled in an area affected by COVID-19 from returning to work or being referred to work?

As of March 13, 2020, the Government of Canada has posted travel health notices for travel to China, France, Germany, Spain, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, Italy, Singapore and South Korea due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Depending on where they have travelled, an employer may assess risks in the circumstances and could restrict a member from immediately returning to the workplace or being referred to the workplace.

Prior to a member returning to work or being referred to work, they may be asked to confirm that they have no symptoms of illness. Also, depending on where they have travelled, the employee may not be allowed to attend work.

Patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If a person has these symptoms, they should seek medical attention and may not be permitted to attend work until they are confirmed by medical testing to either not be suffering from COVID-19 or that they no longer carry the virus.

Please check the Government of Canada’s Travel Health Notices for the most up to date information on travel restrictions.

If an employer holds an employee without symptoms out of work, is there a requirement to still compensate the employee?

This remains an unresolved issue.

What if an employee has COVID-19 and cannot work?

Where an employee contracts COVID-19 and is unable to work, an employer must grant any applicable (unpaid) leave to the employee under the Employment Standards Act.

Under what circumstances can an employee obtain Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits?

On March 11, 2020, the Government of Canada announced that it will be waiving the mandatory one-week waiting period for Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits for workers who are in quarantine or who have been directed to self-isolate as a result of the COVID-19. The announcement did not specify what evidence will be necessary in order to qualify for the waiver, and appears not to cover voluntary self-isolation.

What if employees refuse to work because they are concerned about contracting COVID-19 in the workplace?

Employers have a positive obligation to take reasonable care in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of employees under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Where an employee has a reasonable basis to believe that there is a dangerous condition in the workplace the employee may be able to refuse to attend work or perform certain duties.

In the event of a work refusal, the employer must respond in accordance with Occupational Health and Safety Act, which response will include an investigation into the concerns and, if appropriate, adopting measures to eliminate or reduce the workplace danger. This investigation will, in large part, be based upon the current scientific understanding of COVID-19 and the specific facts in the individual workplace. No reprisal for properly exercising a health and safety right may lawfully occur.

Can an employer fire an employee if they contract COVID-19?

No. Employers may not terminate an employee or otherwise discriminate against an employee due to physical disability (which includes certain illnesses) under the Human Rights Code.

Can an employer close or suspend their business due to COVID-19 outbreak?

An employer must ensure a safe working environment. Depending on the situation, an employer may find it necessary to close or suspend business.

Do employers have to buy personal protective equipment for employees?

Employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment. If employees run the risk of becoming infected at work, the employer must provide personal protective equipment as deemed necessary.

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