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What to do if an employee refuses to return to work post-lockdown

We’ve got the answers to help you navigate this tricky situation…

Monday, Jun 07, 2021
2 min read

As your province slowly reopens and you recall staff to work, it may happen that some employees feel anxious about returning to the workplace.

Under the law, your staff has the right to refuse dangerous work if they have reasonable grounds to believe that it poses a threat to their health and safety. But the belief that work is unsafe must not be subjective. It has to be substantial.

To help you navigate this tricky situation, we advise that you…

1. Talk to your employee

Find out what’s troubling them so you can ease their concerns.

Your employee might have an underlying health condition that puts them at risk. Or they might fear catching the bus or train to work. They might even be struggling to find childcare.

Whatever it is, you can’t help to reassure your employee and take action until you know what’s concerning them.

2. Put new measures in place

Once you’ve established the main source of your employee’s anxiety, you can then start to put new measures in place to help them feel more comfortable.

For example, if your employee is concerned about travelling to work, you can think of ways to help them avoid public transport. You could provide additional car parking spaces or bike storage facilities near your workplace. Or you could stagger shift start and finish times to help staff avoid travelling during the rush hour.

It’s also important to tell your employees what health and safety measures you’re putting in place, in line with government guidelines. It could help to reassure your employees if they know that you’ve put safety controls in place to make your workplace COVID-secure.

If your employee still has concerns about workplace health and safety, you can request the Occupational Health and Safety authority in your province to probe the matter and conduct an inspection of your workplace.

If the OHS authority finds your workplace to be safe, then the worker’s refusal to work cannot hold.

3. Consider alternatives to coming into work

Remember, as the employer, you have a duty to accommodate staff to the point of undue hardship. This includes requests related to grounds of discrimination (such as family status and disability). If an employee has children but no childcare support, they are legally entitled to take an unpaid but job-protected leave from work.

The same applies if your employee cannot return to the office due to a disability. (A disability may include a medical condition that makes the worker vulnerable to COVID-19.)

In such cases, you may consider offering them alternatives. For instance, if your business allows it, let such employees work from home. Or temporarily move them from field work to a desk job.

But if your employee has none of the above-mentioned issues and no reasonable cause for refusal to work, you may, treat the refusal to return as job abandonment and terminate the employment without notice or pay in lieu of notice.

The provisions for termination may be different across provinces. For example, in Alberta, an employer can end an employment without statutory notice or pay in lieu if the employee fails to return to work within seven days of receiving the recall notice.

But you must provide the worker with sufficient time to return to work.

Not a BrightHR customer yet?

To learn more about how our software can help you manage your business and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, call us today: (1) 888-220-4924.

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