Notice to Clients Regarding COVID-19

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01 Apr 2020

Employment issues resulting from COVID-19

by Andrew Moss
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As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Brunswickers may be prevented from working for several reasons:

  • Illness and quarantine due to contracting COVID-19;
  • Quarantine due to travel or exposure;
  • Caring for sick family members;
  • Supervising children because of school closures; and
  • Layoffs resulting from businesses closing or downsizing

Employees who are prevented from working may be eligible for benefits from the following sources:

  • Paid sick-leave or vacation provisions in employment contracts;
  • Sickness and disability insurance policies;
  • New Brunswick’s Workers’ Compensation Act, for employees who contract COVID-19 in the course of their employment;
  • The Government of Canada; and
  • The Government of New Brunswick

The Government of Canada provides traditional benefits and new benefits created for the COVID-19 pandemic.  Traditional benefits include regular Employment Insurance benefits for laid-off workers (up to 45 weeks) and Employment Insurance sickness benefits (up to 15 weeks).

The new Canada Emergency Response Benefit will provide eligible individuals up to $2,000.00 per month for up to 16 weeks.  This benefit is available to Canadians who are not eligible for regular Employment Insurance benefits.  The Government of New Brunswick recently announced the New Brunswick Workers Emergency Income Benefit, a one-time benefit of $900.00 to workers and self-employed people in New Brunswick who have lost their job due to the state of emergency.

Employees may refuse work if they believe it would be dangerous or unsafe due to COVID-19.  For employers subject to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the process for managing an employee’s refusal to work is the same as before.  However, COVID-19 may cause a substantial increase in work refusals.  WorksafeNB indicates it will prioritize the resolution of work refusals in essential services.      

Employers that target sick employees for termination risk violating New Brunswick’s Human Rights Act.  Employers subject to the Human Rights Act are prohibited from discriminating against disabled employees.  Employers must accommodate employees’ disabilities to the point of undue hardship.  COVID-19 may be treated as a disability pursuant to the Human Rights Act. 

Employers risk violating New Brunswick’s Employment Standards Act and Human Rights Act if they terminate employees who are absent from work because of COVID-19-related family obligations.  Employers subject to the Employment Standards Act must grant employees a leave of absence without pay of up to 37 weeks to care for a critically ill child, and up to 16 weeks to care for a critically ill adult.  Employers subject to the Human Rights Act are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on their family status.  Tribunals and courts have found that employers must accommodate employees’ family care obligations to the point of undue hardship.  These rules may apply to employees who are supervising children because of school closures or caring for family members who are sick with COVID-19.