COVID-19 and Ontario’s Human Rights Code – FAQ

July 29, 2020

COVID-19 and Ontario’s Human Rights Code – FAQ

The following FAQ was developed by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and is applicable to ETT members in helping understand your human rights and obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the responsibilities of the TDSB.

1) Does my employer have to accommodate me if I need to stay home with my kids or an ill family member?

  • An employer must accommodate an employee who has care-giving responsibilities up to the point of undue hardship.
  • These care-giving responsibilities, which relate to the Code ground of family status, could include situations where another family member is ill or in self-isolation, or where their child’s school is closed due to COVID-19.
  • Potential accommodations can include allowing employees to work from home where feasible, permitting employees to work alternate hours, allowing employees to take leaves from work, or other flexible options.
  • On March 19, 2020, Ontario passed Bill 186, Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020, which allows for job-protected leave without pay to employees under medical investigation, supervision or treatment, or in isolation or quarantine, or who need to be away from work to care for children because of school or day care closures or to care for other relatives, or are affected by travel restrictions, due to COVID-19. The new measures are retroactive to January 25, 2020.

2) Schools are closed and childcare services are shutting down because of COVID-19. I can’t afford other daycare or time off work to stay home with my kids. Does my employer have to help me? What financial assistance options do I have?

  • The Code does not require employers to provide additional financial assistance to employees who are impacted by COVID-19.
  • However, the Ontario government has announced that it is reviewing current access and eligibility to emergency assistance through the Ontario Works (OW) program to support individuals who are not able to meet their basic living expenses as a result of COVID-19.
  • The federal government has announced financial measures to directly support individuals and businesses.

3) Can my employer insist that I work despite the current situation with COVID-19?

  • Employers are entitled to expect that employees will continue to perform their work unless there is a legitimate reason why they cannot. An example of a legitimate reason can include situations where it may not be safe for the employee to be at work.
  • In these circumstances, the employer should explore alternative options for how the employee may still continue to perform productive work for the employer (for example, by working from home, working alternate hours or other flexible options).

4) Can my employer redeploy me to do other work not related to my current job because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Procedures Act and related regulations invoked during the COVID-19 pandemic, an employer may be entitled to redeploy an employee to do other work.
  • At the same time, an employee may have a legitimate Code-related reason why they cannot do the other work, or they may need an accommodation to do the other work, based on their disability, family status and/or age. This would depend on the nature of the other work, related health and safety risks, the person’s individual circumstances and current advice from public health officials during the pandemic.
  • If an employee is unable to do the other work, or their current job, for Code-related reasons, the employer should explore possible accommodation options, including whether there is other productive work the employee can perform.
  • Visit Ontario’s website for more information.

5) Can I refuse to work if I think my workplace is unsafe because of COVID-19?

  • Employees and employers have rights and obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for workers’ health and safety on the job. This Act gives a worker the right to refuse work that they believe is unsafe for them or another worker. Visit the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development website for more information about the procedure for a work refusal and information about how to contact the Ministry.
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