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Coronavirus Q&A / COVID-19 & the academic workplace

Coronavirus Q&A / COVID-19 & the academic workplace

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Our institution has required classes to move on-line. What are my rights?

While academic staff should be flexible given the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, they should be permitted to exercise their professional judgment over the most appropriate way to provide alternatives to in-class instruction and labs.

What are my rights if I am ill or have been ordered to self-isolate?

Employees who are ill or subject to self-isolation orders should continue to receive full pay and benefits, even if they are not normally eligible for or have exhausted regular sickness benefits. You should not be required to provide medical documentation. Even where a medical absence is unrelated to COVID-19, administrations should refrain from requiring medical documentation in order to avoid placing unnecessary strain on the health care system.

What are my legal rights to refuse unsafe work?

If you feel unsafe, you should contact your academic staff association. Workplace health and safety legislation in Canada gives employees the right to refuse work that they honestly and reasonably believe to be unsafe. To exercise this right, employees must notify their supervisor and the perceived danger must be serious enough to justify a work refusal. A determination as to whether the refusal was justified or whether it is safe to return to work will be made by a government investigator.

Members who believe they are being placed in unsafe work situations as a result of the spread of COVID-19 should document what risks they are being exposed to in the workplace and if they have any specific underlying conditions that make them more at risk from COVID-19.

Some members may not be able to refuse unsafe work due to statutory exceptions. Hospital workers, clinicians, and laboratory staff may be limited to exercise this right if the safety hazard is a regular part of the job.

My hours and pay may be reduced, or my contract terminated. What should I do?

Contact your association. No one should experience loss of pay or benefits as a result of the public health crisis. Several associations have successfully negotiated income protection for members. As institutional operating grants and tuition revenue have not yet been affected, associations should insist that members, including contract academic staff, receive their regular pay.

By March 25, the federal government had announced $52 billion in direct support to Canadians, including an emergency care benefit of up to $2000 per month for affected workers. Eligible workers may also defer tax payments until August.

What if I am unable to come to work because of unexpected childcare responsibilities or because I have to care for an ill family member?

Human rights law in Canada prevents discrimination on the basis of family status and requires that employers provide reasonable accommodation. For example, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has issued the following statement on the current situation:

An employee who has care-giving responsibilities should be accommodated to the point of undue hardship, which might include staying home. These care-giving responsibilities which relate to the Code ground of family status could include situations where another family member is ill or in self-isolation, or where their child’s school is closed due to COVID-19.

Your academic staff association can help secure reasonable accommodations for care-giving responsibilities associated with the pandemic.

If the campus is closed, how can I ensure care for animals and plants in my lab?

Care of animals and plants should be considered as part of essential services. In most cases, there will be a protocol in place to permit access to critical lab facilities. This protocol should also specify the measures that will be taken to protect the health and safety of persons accessing the labs and how plants or animals will be cared for if the person normally responsible is sick or quarantined.

I have had to cancel travel funded through a research grant. Will the grant cover cancellation fees?

The tri-agency council’s guidelines are updated regularly. Costs associated with cancelling or postponing travel will be considered allowable research expenses as long as they fall within agency policies. Check with the relevant granting agency for more details.

Will the granting agencies make allowances for extensions to competition deadlines?

At this time the tri-agency council is considering extensions to competition deadlines but has not yet made an announcement. You should check the granting agencies’ websites for updated information.


I have received a grant that required me to attend a conference as a condition of receiving funding. What should I do?

The granting agencies are advising researchers to take travel precautions as advised by the Public Health Agency of Canada. They have not yet provided specific details respecting the amendment of grant conditions in response to travel restrictions and the cancellation or postponement of conferences. Please consult the granting agencies’ websites for the most up-to-date information.

Students are coming to me with concerns about border closures and orders to leave residences. What advice can I give?

Many international and exchange students are worried about their ability to return to Canada from their home countries given border closures to non-citizens and non-permanent residents. Students should be directed to the campus international students’ office and their student union for assistance and guidance.

Some campus residences have issued eviction notices to students. Students should contact their student union, their campus housing office, and, where necessary, community housing services.

Students in financial distress may be eligible for assistance from newly announced federal and provincial funding programs. The federal government is also instituting a six-month interest-free reprieve on student loan payments.

For additional information, visit the website of the Canadian Federation of Students.


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