Labour & Employment Law Blog

Refusing to work during the COVID-19 Crisis

Refusing to work during the COVID-19 Crisis

Things are moving quickly and there is a great deal of confusion about one’s employment rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. An obvious and understandable concern is whether employees are entitled to refuse work because they fear for their own lives or the lives of their loved ones because of the coronavirus. There is a great deal of chatter online about employers “forcing” employees to work during the pandemic or not providing a safe enough work environment. These issues need to be addressed at least with respect to those who are still working as their employer has been deemed by the Ontario government an essential service.

Firstly, you cannot be “forced” to work. The days of indentured servitude are long gone and you can always quit upon providing your employer with an adequate notice of resignation. This may sound cynical but it is a legal fact. Of course you have a very palpable reason of needing to remain employed, i.e. your livelihood. However, strictly speaking, you do not have to work. Absent safety-related concerns, your failure to attend work or to perform your job is an act of insubordination and constitutes cause for dismissal at law.

Secondly, things become more nuanced if the reason for your need to quit is because, objectively-speaking, your employer fails to provide you with a safe work environment. A work environment is not “unsafe” merely because you have fears related to COVID-19 – such beliefs have to be reasonably held. You need to have reasonable grounds to state that your employer is not complying with minimal safety requirements. This has been the law in Ontario before the COVID-19 crisis and will surely remain so long after.  However, employers must not be complacent about the pandemic either.  Employers must not simply ignore that there is a risk of COVID-19.  We would strongly advise all employers who have been deemed to be an essential service to make sure that they increase certain safety standards in order to limit their employees’ exposure to COVID-19 including having regard to social distancing as much as reasonably possible.

If you believe that your employer is failing to provide you with a safe work environment we suggest that you talk with your supervisor or a person responsible for health and safety in the workplace. If you work in a unionized workplace, contact your local union rep to address your concerns. Assuming you’re in the right, your employer would have to take reasonable steps to remedy the situation. If you are still unsatisfied, you may contact the Ministry of Labour, which will proceed to investigate the matter and determine if the employer has failed to address health and safety concerns at the workplace. It is important to note that your employer cannot terminate or discipline you for raising such concerns or for contacting the Ministry of Labour. Such an action on the part of the employer could constitute to an unlawful act of reprisal and lead to various forms of liability to the employer.

Thirdly, your employer may be under the obligation to accommodate you under the Ontario Human Rights Code, 1990, by allowing you to work from home if you have a protected ground that warrants so doing.  For instance, if you have a disability that may require you to work from home and the employer is able to facilitate such an arrangement to the point of undue hardship.

Finally, frontline healthcare workers (all of whom should be commended for the work they do) are also entitled to minimal safety standards at the workplace. However, the nature of their job is inherently more within the danger zone and there are certain more obvious and “expected” risks associated with these sort of professions including first responders.

The above article is for general information purposes only, does not constitute legal advice or create a solicitor-client relationship. Because each case is unique and factually driven, if you have concerns with regard to the foregoing issues, please make an appointment with one of our lawyers or a qualified legal practitioner elsewhere. We represent clients in the Greater Toronto Area including Toronto, North York, Markham, Vaughan, Thornhill, Newmarket, Aurora, Brampton, Mississauga, Barrie, Ajax, Whitby, Pickering and Oshawa.

Legal Receptionist

Zeilikman Law is an employment law firm located in Vaughan, Ontario. We are looking to hire a legal receptionist to join our firm. Preference will be given to candidates who have experience working as a receptionist at another law firm.

Location: Vaughan, Ontario.

Start Date: Immediately.

Hours: Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. Full time. In-person only. This is not a remote work position.

Wages: 35,000 to 40,000 per year.

Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Manage our firm’s multi-line telephone system to receive incoming calls.  Screen incoming telephone call inquiries to determine the nature of the telephone call and provide standard information related to our legal services.  Take and deliver messages and route incoming telephone calls to the appropriate staff person.
  • Answer general inquiries coming from the firm’s social media and website email.
  • Welcome in-person visitors upon arrival.  Direct visitors to the appropriate staff person and / or office or boardroom.
  • Organize in-person visitor schedule to prevent overlap and multiple bookings.
  • Receive, sort, and distribute daily mail and deliveries.
  • Arrange for couriers.
  • Keep front reception, kitchenette area and boardroom tidy.
  • Perform various clerical duties such as filing, photocopying, and faxing on an as-needed basis.
  • Process client or other payments.
  • May be asked to run minor errands outside of office such as attending post office to arrange a courier or pick up mail.
  • May be asked to assist other law clerks or lawyers of the firm as required and as appropriate.
  • Any other basic administrative duties or tasks as deemed appropriate.

Required Skills:

  • Basic knowledge of general office procedures including filing, faxing, and printing and copying.
  • Basic word processing computer skills.
  • Proficient in receptionist and telephone practices, etiquette, and decorum.
  • Professional attitude and appearance.
  • Excellent organizational skills.
  • Positive customer service attitude is a must.
  • Must be able to maintain confidential and sensitive information.

Education and Experience:

  • Highschool diploma or equivalent.
  • 1 – 2 years’ experience in an office setting with an emphasis in accounting, reception or clerical work is required.   We would prefer experience in a law firm environment.

Applications for this position should be sent via email to jennifer@zeilikmanlaw.com. All applications should include a cover letter, resume and at least two references. Only successful candidates will be contacted.