COVID-19: Employee Rights and Responsibilities

By Christine E. McKeating, SullivanLaw Litigation Associate


The global outbreak of COVID-19 It has led many Ontario employees to wonder what their rights are amidst a public health scare. Here is are some answers to a few questions workers may have.

What precautions does my employer have to take to keep me safe?

If you have a concern for your safety on the worksite, let your employer know. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA), Employers have a general duty to take every caution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers from hazards in the workplace.

Is the novel coronavirus so much in the news a hazard in the workplace?

Your employer should accurately maintain and make available records of exposure of a worker to biological agents, and comply with a standard of limiting exposure of a worker to biological agents. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Safety, biological hazards include the common cold, AIDs, and hepatitis. Given the status of the novel coronavirus worldwide, actions by governments to limits its spread and its manner of transmission, it would be considered such a hazard.

Can I refuse work or leave for home if someone at my workplace refuses to limit exposure?

You may be able to refuse to work if you have reason to believe that the physical condition of the workplace is likely to endanger you. If you need to refuse work, promptly report the circumstances of the refusal to your employer, who will investigate the report.

Can anybody refuse work?

Some workers are exempt from this. For example, if the hazard is a normal condition of the workers employment, or when the worker’s refusal to work would directly endanger the life, health and safety of another person. This means that if you are a doctor, nurse, or police officer, you may not be able to refuse all hazardous work.

What happens if I refuse work or leave a hazardous workplace?

It is important to note that your refusal to work cannot result in you being threatened, dismissed, disciplined, intimidated or coerced by your employer for your compliance with OSHA.

If you have questions or concerns, call or email SullivanLaw to find out how you can be better informed.