The USW Local 2009 takes seriously all threats to our members and stands ready to assist in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. USW Local 2009 members — including airport screeners, healthcare workers, union staff reps— interact with the public on a daily basis and are at a heightened risk of contracting the coronavirus and other communicable diseases. This requires that we be vigilant, be prepared and come together; and avoid panicking and resorting to fear-mongering. Although COVID-19 (also known as the coronavirus) has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization, in Canada the risk of an outbreak still remains relatively low. However, with 79 confirmed cases in Canada now, employers and our members may be wondering how this outbreak can impact their work environment.


COVID-19 symptoms are similar to those of influenza (for example, fever, cough and shortness of breath), and the current outbreak is occurring during a season when respiratory illnesses from influenza and other viruses are prevalent. Symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. The Canadian Public Health Agency (PHA) and others report that people who are most at risk are either people over age 65 with weakened immune systems due to age, or who have underlying chronic diseases.


Legal Obligations

Under Section 115 of the Workers Compensation Act BC employers have a legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of all workers working or present at a workplace. The obligation includes the duty to remedy any workplace conditions that are hazardous to the health or safety of the employer's workers, and to ensure that the employer's workers are made aware of all known or reasonably foreseeable health or safety hazards to which they are likely to be exposed by their work. These obligations include taking reasonable steps to protect employees from a contagion such as COVID-19.


Employers also have an obligation to ensure that personal information of employees, including health information, is kept confidential in the workplace.



Right to Refuse Work

An employee who believes that a work process or condition in the workplace is likely to endanger their health or safety, can refuse to work under Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 3.12 if that person has reasonable cause to believe that to do that work would create an undue hazard to the health and safety of any person.

Employers should handle the work refusal on a case-by-case basis and consider the situation on its merits. All the steps in the work refusal required by Regulation 3.12 should be followed.


Employers are advised to err on the side of caution and consider things such as whether any individual in the workplace is symptomatic or if there has been recent travel to a place where cases of COVID-19 have been identified in larger numbers.


Under certain circumstances, it may be reasonable to instruct an employee to stay away from the workplace if that employee has a demonstrable and heightened risk of infection. However, employers should be mindful not to invite an allegation of constructive dismissal or an employment-related complaint by unreasonably refusing employees access.


If an employee travels to a high-risk area identified by the government of Canada, they will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. The employer should pay for all scheduled hours missed unless there is an entitlement to weekly indemnity or short term disability. Employees should not be asked or required to use sick leave or vacation unless they are symptomatic.


Paid Sick Leave & Leave of Absence

Employees may be entitled to paid sick leave, if provided for in their collective agreement or in a workplace policy. Employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 should be treated the same as any other sick employee. If paid sick leave is not provided for in an employment contract or policy, the employer is not obligated to provide paid sick leave. The employee may, however, be eligible for EI sick leave benefits while on their unpaid leave of absence.


An employee who has a family member who falls ill, may be entitled to an unpaid but job protected leave of absence under Employment Standards legislation, such as family responsibility leave or compassionate care leave.


If COVID-19 becomes a widespread problem, we anticipate the government will put job protection and other employment-related measures into place.


Prevention Strategies for USW Local 2009 Members

·      Wash hands often, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

·      Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available.

·      Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

·      Avoid close contact with people who are sick and exhibiting symptoms (i.e. coughing, sneezing etc.)

·      Cough and sneeze into elbows or tissues, not your hands. After coughs and sneezes tissues should be immediately disposed of and hands washed or otherwise sanitized.

·      Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

·      If members are concerned about contamination they should report their concern to their immediate supervisor or the employer.

·      Stay informed. The Canadian Public Health Agency will be issuing new guidance and recommendations as events develop.


Discrimination & Harassment

Under human rights law throughout Canada, employees are protected from discrimination based on the prohibited grounds. Employers should take steps to guarantee that no employee is subject to discrimination as a result of a misconception that they are the carrier of a communicable disease. Any employee who has been wrongly singled out in this manner of stereotyping may have a claim for prohibited discrimination in employment.


USW Local 2009 is monitoring the coronavirus and will continue to provide updates to our members. If any members have questions about the Employer’s policy or actions on COVID-19 please contact your Servicing Representative or call the Union office at (604) 842-2900.


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