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I don’t want to go to work because I’m worried about getting COVID-19. Can my employer fire me?

Question
I don’t want to go to work because I’m worried about getting COVID-19. Can my employer fire me?

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I don’t want to go to work because I’m worried about getting COVID-19. Can my employer fire me?
Reviewed: 
March 30, 2020
Answer

Your employer cannot fire you for having COVID-19. This would go against the Human Rights Code.

If you do not have COVID-19, and your employer remains open, they may be able to terminate you for not coming to work.

But there are situations when you can take an unpaid leave of absence from work. This will protect you from being fired if:

  • you’re sick with COVID-19
  • you’re caring for a family member who is sick with COVID-19
  • you’ve been ordered to quarantine or isolate
  • you’re in isolation, self-isolation, or quarantine because of information or directions from the Ontario government, Telehealth Ontario, a medical practitioner, including a doctor or nurse, a municipality, or the Canadian government

Changes to the law

There’s a new section of the Employment Standards Act (ESA) that seems to allow employees to take a leave of absence if they choose to self-isolate or quarantine.

Employees can use this option when they’re in isolation, self-isolation, or quarantine because of information or a direction from:

  • a public health official
  • a doctor or nurse
  • Telehealth Ontario
  • the Ontario government
  • the Canadian government
  • a municipal council
  • a board of health

This new section of the ESA does not say what “information” or “direction” mean. It also does not say what the terms “quarantine”, “isolation”, or “self-isolation” mean.

Because it’s a new law, there have not been any court cases that have explained these terms. So, it’s not clear how this section will affect employees who work in what the government has called essential workplaces.

The Prime Minister, the Premier of Ontario, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer have all advised Canadians to stay at home. This may count as “information”.

If you want to take an unpaid leave

If you want to take an unpaid leave of absence, you must tell your employer. Employers can ask for evidence that the law says is “reasonable in the circumstances”.

But employers cannot require workers to get a doctor’s note. And employees need to provide evidence only “at a time that is reasonable in the circumstances”.

Getting legal help

You need to get legal advice if you plan to take a leave of absence so:

  • you can isolate during the outbreak, and
  • you’re not ill or caring for a family member who’s ill.

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