Carscallen Blog

COVID-19 Employment Law Considerations: Occupational health and safety issues

Posted by Carscallen LLP on Mar 18, 2020 11:19:20 AM

Written by Catherine A. Crang and Hema Ahuja

The recent international outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV, or “COVID-19”) is having many implications for employees and employers across Alberta and Canada, including relating to such factors as: workplace health and safety laws, statutory leaves available for workers in Alberta and Canada, human rights laws, temporary layoffs and terminations of employees, and many other issues.

As this is an ongoing situation of a global nature, the information provided herein is current as of the publishing date of this blog, and we will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they develop.

Occupational Health and Safety considerations for employers and employees

Both provincially and federally-regulated employers are required under occupational health and safety laws to use all reasonable and practicable measures to protect the health and safety of workers on a work site and other persons at or in the vicinity of the worksite. We have already seen many employers in both Alberta and across Canada and the United States implement remote working measures for their employees to work from home on a temporary basis.

Of course, working remotely is only possible for certain types of jobs, and for employees whose nature of work allows them to work from home, for example by logging into a work network from their work laptop or home computer. For certain jobs, remote working is less feasible, such as factory and labour jobs and many retail service and sales positions, that require employees to be physically present at their place of employment.  

In keeping with an employer’s responsibility to provide a healthy and safe workplace, if any employee (1) satisfies the current published requirements for self-isolation and quarantine, or (2) is displaying any symptoms of COVID-19, they should be:

  • immediately sent home by their employers for the requisite self-isolation and quarantine period; and
  • advised by their employers to follow all current governmental advisories with respect to COVID-19, including calling 811 (Health Link) in Alberta to notify the necessary government agencies, as applicable.
Current Alberta Health Services guidelines for self-isolation and quarantine

In Alberta, the current published requirements for self-isolation and quarantine are in relation to (1) people exhibiting symptoms of the virus, (2) those who have returned to Alberta from travelling abroad, and (3) those who have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. At present, self-isolation and quarantine measures are required for:

  • Anyone who has symptoms: including cough, runny nose, fever or sore throat, must self-isolate for 14 days, and call either 811 (Health Link) or 911 and advise that they may have COVID-19.
  • Anyone returning to Alberta from travel on or after March 12: all travellers who returned to Alberta from outside Canada on or after March 12 are required to self-isolate immediately, for 14 days, and monitor for symptoms.
  • Anyone returning to Alberta from travel before March 12 from Italy, Iran, the Hubei Province of China, or the Grande Princess Cruise ship: all travellers who returned to Alberta from these destinations before March 12 are required to self-isolate, and must monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days after return.
  • Travellers who returned to Alberta from other destinations, before March 12: are encouraged to self-isolate, and monitor themselves for symptoms.
  • Anyone who has been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days: regardless of which country, the person is required to self-isolate and limit contact with others for 14 days.

More information for Albertans about COVID-19 can also be found here:  

Does an employee have the right to refuse to work due to COVID-19 concerns?

Employees are permitted to refuse to work in unhealthy, unsafe and/or dangerous conditions under workplace health and safety laws in Canada, where they have reasonable grounds to believe that to be the case. Whether a workplace would be considered unsafe for employees due to COVID-19 concerns is something that both employers and employees should consider, and we encourage anyone with such concerns to seek legal advice from an experienced employment lawyer on this issue.

Does an employee have the right to refuse to self-isolate due to COVID-19?

Regarding an employer’s obligation to provide a healthy and safe working environment for all employees and/or other persons at or in the vicinity of the worksite, employers do have the right to send employees home, in the event that an employee refuses to self-isolate and quarantine for COVID-19 where necessary.

An employer’s superseding obligation to protect the health and safety of its employees means such employer must take all necessary measures to minimize the risk of COVID-19, including sending employees home who meet the requirements for self-isolation and quarantine due to COVID-19. 

Carscallen LLP’s Employment Law Expertise

We understand that the rapid emergence of COVID-19 means that many employers and employees are dealing with a myriad of legal issues. Our team of experienced employment lawyers can help assess employers’ OHS obligations and can help determine how to address employer and employee concerns with respect to COVID-19. Our team is also available to help ascertain what measures can be taken in order to help ensure employers continue to provide a healthy and safe working environment for its employees. Please contact us if you have any questions with respect to your legal obligations in connection with COVID-19, or any other legal employment matters. Our lawyers routinely work remotely and will continue to do so during this time. We remain available to provide legal advice and guidance to clients for all issues that may arise during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Please visit our COVID-19 resources page for further updates.

Visit COVID-19 Page


*This update is intended for general information only on the subject matter and is not to be taken as legal advice.

Topics: Employment, Labour and Human Rights Law, Covid-19

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