COVID-19 presents considerable challenges for BC businesses, employers and workers. Ascendion Law works with employers in navigating WorkSafeBC matters, and we wanted to highlight three key issues to keep in mind as you manage your business and protect your workers in this new environment.
- Workers have the right to refuse unsafe work. In fact, in British Columbia, workers are required to refuse unsafe work and report their concern to their employer or supervisor. If a worker raises a concern about COVID-19, employers are obligated to investigate that concern and take further steps to resolve it.
- Employers considering or engaging in lay-offs or other staffing reductions need to be mindful of WorkSafeBC’s discriminatory action provisions. If a worker has raised a health and safety concern, such as the working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, any subsequent action that negatively affects the worker may be presumed to be a prohibited discriminatory action. This does not mean employers cannot lay off workers or reduce their hours; however, if workers file a complaint with WorkSafeBC, employers may be required to rebut the presumption that they engaged in discriminatory action. Accordingly, employers should clearly document the rationale for any actions that adversely affect the workers, and must not target those actions to workers that have raised health and safety concerns.
- When workers work from home, various requirements under the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulation apply to that work. For example, employers are required to check on the well being of any worker who is assigned to work alone (such as a worker who lives alone and is directed to work from home), and to document the results of those check ins. Employers are also required to identify any hazards associated with working from home. This raises obvious privacy concerns and sensitivities. WorkSafeBC recommends that at a minimum employers develop a working from home policy to assist in navigating how the roles and responsibilities of the employers, workers, and supervisors will apply.
If you have any questions about WorkSafeBC, your rights and responsibilities, and planning for COVID-19, we are here to assist.
Graeme Hooper is counsel with Ascendion Law, and his practice includes working with employers in matters involving WorkSafeBC.