COVID-19 and your rights at work

I’ve been off work with confirmed COVID19 or COVID19 symptoms, when is it safe for me to return to work?

If you have been self-isolating and off work due to COVID19 symptoms, or confirmed COVID19, your return to work will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Severity and length of the illness.  
  • Close contact with vulnerable populations (e.g., infants, seniors, immunocompromised).
  • Feasibility of getting tested.
  • Individual factors (e.g., pediatric and immunocompromised individuals may shed for longer).
  • Potential risk of understaffing in health care facilities.
  • Other situation and local context-specific factors.

Depending on the situation, your return may happen in consultation with your manager, a medical health officer, public health, and workplace health and safety.  
If you have questions or concern, please speak with your Steward, or HEU Representative.

For members in the FBA and CBA, if your health conditions makes it difficult for you to stay at work or return to work, please contact your EDMP steward.

Visit the BCCDC site for information about criteria to assess risk for health care workers exposed to COVID-19 patients while at work, as well as information about returning to work after exposure or illness.

Exposures and return to work for health care workers

Can my employer make me self-isolate?

The union is aware that some health employers are requiring self-isolation for workers outside the guidance from the Public Health Agency or the BC Centre for Disease Control. Please contact your shop steward or servicing representative if you find yourself in this situation.

There may be other circumstances under which health care workers will be asked not to report to work. HEU is working with government and employers to minimize the economic impact of these directives on workers.

What about paid leave if I'm directed to self-isolate or I am ill with COVID-19

For members covered by the Facilities Collective Agreement (FBA) or Community Health Collective Agreement (CBA) only:

Self-Isolation as directed by public health officials

All health care workers returning from Italy, Iran and Hubei Province in China, and some health care workers from all international destinations including the U.S., are being directed to self-isolate by public health officials (Please refer to the section above: Travel and Self Isolation). Contact 811 or public health and follow the directions for self-isolation. Employees will be put on a general paid leave of absence* (i.e. not sick leave) for the duration of self-isolation. In some circumstances, where it is feasible, employees may be asked to work from home rather than being put on general paid leave.

Employees who are instructed by a qualified medical practitioner or public health official to self-isolate at home for reasons other than travel such as a potential exposure will be put on a general leave of absence for the duration of the recommended isolation. Again, in some circumstances where it is feasible, employees may be asked to work from home rather than being put on general paid leave.

*General paid leave of absence is full pay for employees for their regular schedule. Casuals who are directed to self-isolate will be compensated according to a formula. This will not affect other leave banks.

If a member is infected by COVID 19 at their worksite they should apply for sick leave, but also file a WorkSafeBC claim. All members should file a WorkSafeBC claim even if they have enough sick time credits.

Working from Home: Employers may request members who are asymptomatic and who have been instructed by a qualified medical practitioner to self-isolate at home may be able to work from home instead of being on general paid leave.

For members covered by independent collective agreements with hospital support service contractors, long-term care and assisted living operators, and care and support contractors:

HEU is urging government and health employers to provide all health care workers with general paid leave and adequate sick leave so that they are not economically impacted because of their role in the health care system.

In cases where HEU is aware that members have been asked to self-isolate, they have been put on general paid leave regardless of their employer. But the union continues to demand that government establish a clear policy that extends general paid leave provisions and adequate sick leave across all health care employers.

What if my employer requires a sick note?

Employers have been strongly advised NOT to require sick notes during the COVID-19 outbreak. If your employer asks you for one, the BC Family Doctors have put out a letter that you can use.

Can I lose my job if I can’t work because of COVID-19?

On March 23, 2020, the Provincial Government passed amendments to the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”) introducing unpaid, job-protected leave for employees who are unable to work for reasons relating to COVID-19.

The amendments also include a new three-day unpaid, job-protected sick leave that will support employees on an ongoing basis when they cannot work due to illness or injury.

COVID-19 Leave

This immediate and unlimited job-protected leave allows employees affected by COVID-19 to stay home without the risk of losing their job.

This leave is available to individuals considered employees under the Employment Standards Act who are unable to work for any of the following reasons:

  • are assisting a dependant being vaccinated against COVID-19
  • have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are following the instructions of a medical health officer or the advice of a doctor or nurse
  • are in isolation or quarantine and are acting in accordance with an order of the provincial health officer, an order made under the Quarantine Act (Canada), guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control, or guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada
  • been directed by the employer not to work due to concern about exposure to others
  • need to provide care to an eligible person for a reason related to COVID-19, including a school, daycare, or similar facility closure
  • are outside of BC and unable to return to work due to travel or border restrictions
  • are more susceptible to COVID-19 in the opinion of a medical professional because of an underlying health condition, ongoing treatment, or other illness and are receiving Canada recovery sickness benefits for the leave

This leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020, when the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in B.C. This means that for any employee that was were terminated on or after January 27, 2020, for one of the reasons set out above, their employer is required to offer them “re-employment in the same or a comparable position,” and their previous absence from work will be deemed to be a leave under the amendments to the ESA.

Under this leave, employers are entitled to ask employees for “reasonably sufficient proof” of eligibility; however, they are prohibited from asking the employee for a doctor’s note.

COVID-19 job-protected leave is tied specifically to the COVID-19 emergency and will be repealed when it is no longer needed.

Personal Illness or Injury Leave

Employees covered under the Employment Standards Act will be entitled to take up to three days of unpaid, job-protected leave per calendar year if they are unable to work due to personal illness or injury.

This leave applies to employees who have worked for their employer for at least 90 days. If requested by their employer, employees need to provide reasonable and sufficient proof that they are ill or injured and therefore entitled to the leave.

This is a permanent change to the ESA that provides British Columbians with job-protection for personal illness or injury in accordance with most other jurisdictions.