Nous défendons les droits des travailleuses
et travailleurs depuis 1921

CORONAVIRUS

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The CSN's FAQ on the coronavirus (COVID-19)

The coronavirus pandemic is raising many concrete and complex questions pertaining to labour relations. The CSN has put together this FAQ in order to support our unions and to respond many of the questions workers may have. If certain topics remain unanswered, do not hesitate to reach us at coronavirus@csn.qc.ca.

DISCLAIMER
The answers and information provided in this FAQ are of a general nature. They do not represent in any way legal advice and should not be interpreted as such. They are valid as of Monday May 4th at 9AM — the situation may have evolved since. We invite you to reach to your local union or to a union advisor should you need a more personalized response.

Version française

Occupational health
and safety

Yes, the employer must take all measures necessary to protect the health and ensure the safety and physical integrity of workers as provided for in section 51 of the Act respecting occupational health and safety (AOHS).

Thus, the employer must implement measures to identify, control and eliminate this biological risk. For example, the employer must apply the hygiene measures required to limit the spread of the virus. He can also adopt work practices that promote social distancing to minimize risks. These measures can include:

  • Avoid non-essential face-to-face meetings;
  • Use technological tools for communications with and between workers;
  • Encourage teleworking.

The employer may also have a policy on the presence at work of personnel showing signs and symptoms of the infection in the context of a pandemic. Employees should be informed of the measures to take as soon as symptoms appear.

Workers have the responsibility of taking the necessary measures to protect their health, safety or physical well-being and to be careful not to endanger the health, safety or physical well-being of other persons close to their workplace, according to section 49 of the AOHS. (source: CNESST)

The Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) has issued interim recommendations on infection prevention and control measures in acute care settings (French only).

It is recommended that all employees reinforce the application of basic practices at all times, namely: hand hygiene for personnel and for those who cough, wearing a procedure mask and applying respiratory etiquette (cough in the elbow).

When a case is suspected, probable or confirmed, health personnel must also apply additional precautions against transmission by air or by contact, i.e. wearing: 

  • an N-95 mask;
  • a single-use, disposable long-sleeved blouse;
  • disposable gloves, well fitted and covering the wrists;
  • disposable eye protection (face shield or goggles).

The INSPQ also recommends that personnel be trained to put on and remove these personal protective equipment (PPE) properly and in the prescribed order to avoid cross-contamination.

Certain medical procedures are associated with an increased risk of transmission of COVID-19, because they generate aerosols, for example, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and tracheal intubation. For these procedures, it is recommended to limit their use to those which are essential, to carry them out in a negative pressure room and to wear in addition to the PPE mentioned above, a single-use waterproof blouse with long sleeves.

For hygiene and sanitation personnel in hospitals, the INSPQ directives require, for daily maintenance, that the personnel wear PPE (the same as indicated while in the patient room), and that they clean and disinfect the rooms at least once a day, paying attention to frequently touched surfaces. When the additional precautions cease or when the symptomatic patient leaves, respect the waiting time required for the ventilation to have removed 99.9% of the air from this room before disinfecting. In these cases, personnel are not required to wear PPE.

Please note that the directives could be modified according to the evolution of knowledge concerning the propagation or the treatment of COVID-19.

No specific provision has been announced by the government that would allow such a request to be automatically granted. The right to protective re-assignment exists, but under certain conditions, in particular with regard to the need to provide the employer with a certificate attesting that the exposure to a contaminant poses a danger to the pregnant or breastfeeding worker.

The Act respecting occupational health and safety (AOHS) provides for a right of protective re-assignment for the pregnant employee. Again, a medical certificate must attest that the working conditions involve physical dangers for the unborn child or for the employee herself:

40. A pregnant worker who furnishes to her employer a certificate attesting that her working conditions may be physically dangerous to her unborn child, or to herself by reason of her pregnancy, may request to be re-assigned to other duties involving no such danger that she is reasonably capable of performing.

The form and tenor of the certificate are determined by regulation, and section 33 applies to its issuance.

In the case of COVID-19, the pregnant worker may be more likely to develop the disease due to a weakened immune system caused by the pregnancy.

Three mechanisms provided for in the law enable employees to request the intervention of the CNESST in a particular situation.

  • A worker has a right to refuse to perform specific work if he has reasonable grounds to believe that the performance of that work would expose him to danger to his health, safety or physical well-being, or would expose another person to a similar danger, as provided for in section 12 of the AOHS.
  • A worker can also file a complaint anonymously. This complaint will be processed to determine the corrective measures to be implemented in order to control the risk.
  • In addition, the AOHS provides a mechanism for pregnant or breastfeeding women, namely protective re-assignment.

However, the worker cannot exercise the right recognized under section 12 if the refusal to perform this work immediately jeopardizes the life, health, safety or physical well-being of another person or if the conditions for performing this work are normal in the type of work he performs, as provided for in section 13 of the AOHS. In the case of a work refusal, a CNESST inspector will determine as soon as possible whether there is a danger or not by ensuring that the procedure provided for in the AOHS is respected, that is to say, the worker has notified his immediate supervisor, the employer or his representative, and has informed the union representative or the prevention officer, if required. (Source: CNESST)

An employee returning from a risk zone or who has been in contact with an infected person is likely to be infected. They therefore pose a risk of exposure to the virus for their colleagues.

Under section 51 of the AOHS, the employer must take the necessary measures to protect the health and ensure the safety and physical well-being of his personnel. He also has the obligation to correctly inform employees of the risks related to their work.

At the federal level, section 124 of the CLC imposes similar obligations to employers.

Despite these obligations, an employer must respect the private life of his employees. Therefore, he must inform them that a person is infected, without revealing the person’s identity, unless it is necessary

Yes, it’s possible. You have to clearly identify how you came into contact with an infected person. However, the more the number of infected people increases in all spheres of the population, the more difficult recognition could become.

No, but there may be consequences.

Since a vaccine is invasive, you can refuse to have it. However, an employer has obligations towards you, your colleagues and his customers. For this reason, your employer could put you on forced labor leave, without pay in some cases.

Never the less, if such a vaccine were to become available and a Public Health Emergency decree were adopted by the government, the answer could be yes. 

Yes. The employer has a duty to adequately inform workers of the risks associated with the job.

Yes. Workers have obligations to respect. Failure to follow the instructions can lead to disciplinary measures, especially in a crisis such as the current situation.

Yes, since he must ensure the health, safety and integrity of your colleagues.

Yes. Your employer must implement the necessary hygiene measures that correspond to a given situation. As it is recommended that hands be washed regularly, it should be allowed.

If the wearing of the mask is not justified by any medical condition, the employer could force an employee to remove his procedure mask for reasons of health, safety, sanitation or even if the collective agreement provides for rules concerning the physical appearance of the employees. The government has also clarified that wearing a mask is not an effective protective measure against COVID-19. If the employee’s wearing of the mask is justified by a medical condition, the employee should see with their employer the possibility of being withdrawn from work. If this is not possible, they can work with their mask. The employer could ask for proof of a medical condition requiring to work with a mask.

The current pandemic of coronavirus disease can be a source of stress and anxiety for workers. The fear of being infected can get out of proportion and lead to inappropriate behavior. Not long ago, physiological reactions like coughing or sneezing were considered trivial; today they have become, for some people, suspect.

It may therefore be useful to remember that despite the context and the specific measures taken with regard to the pandemic, « every employee has a right to a work environment free from psychological harassment ». Remember, the five rules of civility always apply: respect, collaboration, politeness, courtesy and good manners.

Self-isolation
and teleworking

It depends.

If you have returned before March 12, you do not have to self-isolate, unless, of course, you have symptoms similar to COVID-19 (cough, fever, difficulty breathing).

Government directives stipulate that self-isolation is voluntary for those who returned from abroad on or after March 12.

For public service employees and health care, education and daycare workers, both private and public: this isolation is mandatory if they returned from abroad on or after March 12.

Individuals who live with a person (spouse and/or child, for example) who has returned from a trip before or after March 12 do not have to self-isolate, unless they have symptoms.

Employers seem to have a variable understanding of this directive. Some demand that the 14-day self-isolation start from the date of return from abroad, whether that day was before or after March 12. In this context, it is important that everyone involved have the same opinion on the subject. We therefore recommend that you immediately contact your employer, your local union representative and any responsible person (coordinator, team leader or immediate supervisor, for example) to ensure everyone agrees on the matter.

Individuals who live with a person (spouse and/or child, for example) who has returned from a trip before or after March 12 do not have to self-isolate, unless they have symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 (cough, fever, difficulty breathing).

An employer can require that an employee self-isolate when he has reasonable grounds to do so. An employer who follows government guidelines to justify isolation has reasonable grounds.

Thus, according to current government directives, an employer can force a person who has returned from abroad on or after March 12, 2020, or has symptoms similar to the flu or cold, to self-isolate for a period of 14 days.

For the moment, there is no government directive allowing people with a health condition that makes them vulnerable (obstructive chronic pulmonary disease or any other form of disease affecting the immune system) to invoke the coronavirus to request absence from work.

Employers can adopt specific measures, on their own basis, that will apply to these employees. Concerned workers should speak with their local union representative and their employer. Government guidelines are evolving and the directives issued for each workplace change rapidly.

Note also that the prevention mechanisms provided for in the Act respecting occupational health and safety apply. Thus, the right of refusal  or protective re-assignment can be exercised. We invite you to contact your local union.

If the employee complies with government guidelines and self-isolates, the employer can ask for a supporting document (plane ticket, medical certificate, etc.).

However, on March 17, 2020, Premier François Legault sent a very clear message to employers: « This is not the time to ask for doctor certificates. Doctors have other things to do than sign certificates. »

Employers have no formal obligation to this effect and remain entitled to require supporting documents, unless otherwise provided for in the collective agreement. In any case, we suggest that you contact your local union.

An employer has the right to indicate when the period of isolation applies (date and time), provided it does not contravene a government directive.

Not necessarily.

You must first check whether the situation is covered by paid sick leave provided for in the collective agreement. The employer could ask to empty this bank of sick leave first.

Short-term disability insurance may also cover this situation. Contact the insurer to find out. The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association stated in a March 13, 2020, news release that it was committed to helping employers replace part of the wages of their workers placed in isolation.

If the employee does not have insurance, the conditions provided for in the Act respecting occupational health and safety and the Canadian Labour Code apply. Consult the related sections of our FAQ.

The instructions given by Premier François Legault, and the director of public health, Horacio Arruda, are very clear: employers must encourage teleworking whenever possible. They must be flexible and understanding.

However, employers have no obligation to do so. Unfortunately, a worker cannot demand to work from home.

Employers have an obligation, however, to enforce occupational health and safety and protective re-assignment rules for pregnant workers. The right of refusal can be invoked, in accordance with the law.

We recommend that you contact your local union and your employer to find the best possible solution for your particular situation.

Government support
programs

The Temporary Aid for Workers Program (PATT COVID-19) is implemented by the Gouvernement du Québec to provide temporary financial assistance to adult workers (aged 18 and over) in isolation to counter the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It is intended to offer financial assistance to workers who cannot earn all of their work income and are not eligible for another governmental financial assistance program.

This program is for workers aged 18 and over who reside in Québec and:

  • have contracted the virus or present symptoms;
  • have been in contact with an infected person;
  • have returned from abroad.

Persons in one of the following situations are not eligible to PATT COVID-19:

  • are receiving compensation from their employer;
  • are covered by a private insurance;
  • are covered by another government financial assistance program, such as employment insurance.

The amount granted is $573 per week, for a period of 14 days of isolation. If justified by the state of health, the coverage period for an eligible person could be extended to a maximum of 28 days.

To register, the worker must:

  • complete the form which will be available as of March 19, 2020, on their website 
  • send the form to the Red Cross which will be responsible for the administration of PATT COVID-19, the details of which will be specified on the form;
  • inform the Red Cross of any change of situation that could affect their eligibility to PATT COVID-19.

Authorities have indicated that the financial assistance will be paid by bank transfer within 48 hours of receipt of the duly completed form, if the eligibility conditions are met. These benefits are not taxable.

Introduced by the federal government on March 25, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) results from the merger of two Canadian assistance programs, namely the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit.

This is a taxable benefit of $2,000 a month for up to four months, available to all Canadians, whether they are eligible for employment insurance or not.

This benefit is available to persons who have lost their jobs, to those who cannot work because they are sick or in isolation due to the coronavirus or to those who, for various reasons related to the current pandemic, cannot work.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that this emergency benefit will be available via the Internet as of April 6.  It should take approximately 10 days to receive the benefit.

  • Workers who are sick, are in isolation, or are taking care of someone sick with COVID-19;
  • Workers who must stay at home without pay due to the closure of schools or daycare services;
  • Workers who still have their employment, but are not being paid because of the current situation;
  • Self-employed, contract or part-time workers who would not be eligible for employment insurance – or whose benefits would be less than $2,000 per month.

No, the Canadian Emergency Revenue Benefit law clearly states that a worker that voluntarily resigns from their job is not eligible for the CERB.

Remuneration

The answer is yes: you may be eligible for the federal government’s Emergency Care Benefit program.

In the public sector, the government has announced that workers will continue to be paid and will be asked to telework whenever possible.

For the private sector, the government has asked employers to be flexible and understanding. However, there are no obligations to this effect.

Compensation measures will be put into place and gradually announced by the various levels of government, in particular by relaxing the rules for accessibility to employment insurance.

The CSN is in constant contact with the governments of Québec and Canada to ensure that the measures that will be put in place are in the best interests of workers.

Several collective agreements provide for family-related leave. We therefore invite readers to refer to their collective agreements and contact their local union representatives.

In the event that the collective agreement does not contain such provisions or, for workers without a collective agreement, the Act respecting labour standards applies. For employees working for an employer under federal jurisdiction, the Canadian Labour Code applies.

According to the ARLS:

  • An employee may be absent from work for 10 days per year to fulfil obligations relating to the care, health or education of the employee’s child or the child of the employee’s spouse, or because of the state of health of a relative or a person for whom the employee acts as a caregiver.
  • The first two days taken annually are be remunerated for employees credited with three months of uninterrupted service.
  • Note that the leave may be divided into days. The employee must however take all reasonable steps to limit the duration of the leave.

The CLC provides for:

  • The possibility for an employee to be granted a leave of absence from employment of up to five days in every calendar year to allow them to carry out obligations related to the health or care of any of their family members.
  • If the employee has completed three consecutive months of continuous employment with the employer, the employee is entitled to the first three days of the leave with pay.

Verify whether the collective agreement provides for notice of layoff or the payment of compensation in the event of the closure or cessation of activities. If this is the case, check whether the collective agreement provides for the non-application of these clauses in the event of force majeure. Contact your local union representatives for more information.

The Act respecting labour standards (ARLS) and the Canadian Labour Code (CLC) also provide for notices of mass lay-offs. An employer must give written notice to an employee before terminating his contract of employment or laying him off for six months or more.

For a business under federal jurisdiction, the CLC provides that an employer who intends to terminate the employment of an employee, must give the employee notice, in writing, at least two weeks before the date specified in the notice, or in lieu of the notice, two weeks wages at his regular rate of wages for his regular hours of work, except where the termination is by way of dismissal for just cause. The employee must have completed three consecutive months of continuous employment with the same employer for these provisions to apply.

Finally, the ARLS stipulates that if the employer makes dismissals or layoffs that would have included the employee had the employee remained at work, the employee retains the same rights with respect to a return to work as the employees who were dismissed or laid off.

Emergency daycare services for essential services personnel

All daycare services (daycare centers and home daycare providers) are open to offer services exclusively to parents required to work in essential services. For school daycare services, emergency daycare services are deployed around critical sites such as hospitals, CHSLDs and CLSCs.

These daycare services are offered to the following people:

  • All people working in the health and social services network (hospitals, CHSLD, youth centers, rehabilitation centers), including people working in private professional offices, community pharmacies, intermediary resources and family-type and private seniors’ residences
  • Pharmacists
  • Employees of pre-hospital emergency services (paramedics and dispatchers)
  •  Employees of 811 and 911
  • Persons offering home services to the elderly and who are employed by social economy enterprises providing home assistance
  • Police
  • Firefighters and volunteer firefighters
  • Correctional officers and special constables
  • Personnel called to provide the emergency daycare services
  • Staff involved in the supply and distribution of drugs and pharmaceuticals
  • Food inspection staff
  • Home care staff for seniors (direct allowance/employment-service check)
  • Garbage collectors / Waste collection
  • Sanitary service personnel
  • Water treatment plant personnel
  • Government air service personnel
  • Ministère de la sécurité publique personnel (civil security and coroners)
  • Personnel of suicide prevention centers
  • Personnel of the MTESS customer communication center
  • Héma-Québec
  • Transplant-Québec personnel
  • Red Cross staff
  • Personnel of the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ)
  • Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ)

Registration procedures will be communicated to parents working in essential services directly through their employer. All information will also be made available on the government website www.quebec.ca.

Emergency daycare services are offered free of charge, Monday to Friday, from March 16 to 27, 2020, inclusively. Educational daycare services in daycare centers and home daycare are available for children aged five and under. School daycare services are available to children who attend kindergarten or elementary school (public or private).

Workers required for essential services who have one or more children already attending a daycare service can continue with their usual daycare center. If they are not already using the daycare network and need to, they must write to descrp@mfa.gouv.qc.ca or call 1 855 336-8568. Ideally, parents should register in advance, using the form on the following website (French only). In case of difficulties, parents can also register on site, using a paper form.

Daycare personnel who have children 12 years of age and under can take their children to work.

Taking care of the children of family members or friends is also encouraged. However, avoid recreating a home daycare model with a large number of children.

Subsidies are maintained for daycare centers and home daycare providers. These services are completely free.

Scheduled personnel must report to work, unless there is a valid reason compromising their own health or that of someone close to them, including quarantine. Depending on the number of children, the employees could be assigned to other tasks related to their job title.

Other topics

Certain collective agreements contain specific provisions stipulating that the employer is not required to respect certain matters in the event of superior force. In these cases, the employer could invoke the application of these clauses to justify non-compliance with the provisions of the collective agreement. However, the employer must demonstrate that this is a case of superior force.

Superior force (Act of God) requires proof of an unforeseeable and irresistible event (section 1470 CCQ). The current situation caused by the pandemic could correspond to this notion, since employers must respect the directives of the Gouvernement du Québec.

Where collective agreements do not contain this type of provision for superior force, the employer could still invoke superior force in order not to comply with obligations provided for in the agreement (section 1693 CCQ). He must however demonstrate that the pandemic situation prevents and makes impossible the execution and compliance with the provisions of the agreement.

As the situation is evolving and an Order in Council declaring a health emergency has been adopted, and since the measures are constantly changing, each situation must be analysed in order to determine if it is truly impossible for the employer to respect the obligations provided for in the collective agreement.

You must carefully check the related clauses of your collective agreement. If unsure, contact your local union representatives.

If the clauses of your collective agreement do not provide for the postponement of vacation for employees, the negotiation of a letter of agreement may be considered.

We suggest that you contact your travel agency, your insurance company and your carrier for this information.