Working on the front lines in Ontario’s hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic response? Understand your rights and responsibilities in situations that may arise. Ontario’s Occupational Health & Safety Act (OHSA) requires employers to:
- keep a safe and well-maintained workplace
- take all reasonable precautions to protect workers from illness and/or injury
- provide information about the hazards in the workplace, proper safety equipment, training, and competent supervision
As workers, you have a corresponding duty to work safely and not take risks, report hazards, and use equipment and protective devices properly where required.
Can the hospital reassign me to other duties?
Yes, the hospital can temporarily reassign staff to temporary duties to achieve the purposes of the hospital’s redeployment plan, provided you are adequately trained or educated as needed to perform the reassignment duties.
This is a temporary authority specific to the pandemic, as announced in the Ministry of Health’s “Extraordinary Steps to Ensure Health Care Resources are Available to Contain COVID-19.”
This temporary order provides hospitals with the ability to cancel and postpone services to free up space and valuable staff, identify staffing priorities, and develop, modify and implement redeployment plans.
In addition to redeployment and reassignment, hospitals may also change the scheduling of work or shift assignments, defer or cancel vacations, absences or other leaves, and employ extra part-time or temporary staff or contractors, or use volunteers, including for the purpose of performing bargaining unit work. When utilized by hospitals during this temporary period, these redeployment plans temporarily supersede the provisions of a collective agreement, including grievance, notice and layoff rights.
Can I refuse the redeployment or reassignment?
No. If you have concerns about the nature of the reassignment, such as your training or education to perform the required work, you should immediately express these concerns to your manager.
If you feel your health and safety or that of a colleague or patient is jeopardized by a task or assignment that you are being asked to perform, please contact your steward immediately.
For questions about your rights and responsibilities in the workplace, please fill out the COVID-19 help form to reach our Labour Relations team.
Can I refuse unsafe work, such as being asked to work in close proximity to a patient without being provided personal protective equipment?
Workers in Ontario have the right to refuse unsafe work when the worker has reason to believe the condition of the workplace is likely to endanger the worker or another worker. As hospital employees, the right to refuse unsafe work does not apply if:
- the circumstance is inherent in the worker’s work or is a normal condition of the worker’s employment
- the worker’s refusal to work would directly endanger the life, health or safety of another person
For example, an experienced Radiation Technologist could not, in the course of regular work, refuse to treat a patient using a well-functioning machine or device to which you have been assigned and are qualified and trained to use. However, the technologist could refuse to treat a patient with the machine where proper protective clothing and safety equipment are not available. Dealing with radiation is “inherent in the technician’s work” in a healthcare facility, but doing so without proper protective clothing or equipment, where such exists, is not “inherent.”
During SARS, an Ontario Nurses’ Association member exercised her right to refuse unsafe work when the employer requested she care for a SARS patient without being fitted with the required N95 respirator. The Ministry of Labour upheld her work refusal and ordered that this worker not be required to care for a SARS patient until she was properly fit tested with an N95 respirator. The Ministry of Labour ordered the employer to develop a plan to immediately fit-test all its workers.
Can I choose not to wear personal protective equipment that has been issued to me?
No, not if the personal protective equipment is required to work safely without risk of injury or illness. A worker who refuses to work safely may be subject to discipline and/or sent home. Refusal to wear personal protective equipment may also be a determining factor in a claim for WSIB benefits (see below).
We encourage all members to work safely, report risks and hazards, and wear required personal protective equipment to protect yourself, your co-workers and your loved ones.
If I am exposed to COVID-19 at work, what should I do?
Any hospital employee who believes they have been exposed to COVID-19 while at work should immediately report the exposure to their supervisor or manager, and take immediate steps to contain the risk to prevent others from being exposed.
Any worker who contracts COVID-19 arising out of and in the course of your employment should file a workplace injury report. If you are unsure how to proceed in this case, please contact us.
Am I entitled to be paid for scheduled shifts if I am sent home due to a workplace exposure?
You should not lose wages or benefits as a result of being required to self-isolate due to a possible workplace exposure. Arrangements are being made with employers to ensure that pay is continued in such circumstances. If you are unsure how to proceed in this case, please contact us.
Am I entitled to WSIB Benefits if I contract COVID-19 due to a workplace exposure?
A worker is entitled to WSIB benefits for COVID-19 arising out of and in the course of the worker’s employment.
In assessing a claim for WSIB benefits, the WSIB will consider a number of factors to establish that the worker’s employment duties or requirements were a significant contributing factor in the worker contracting COVID-19. WSIB will consider information gathered during the assessment, including information about the work environment, work processes, job tasks, and use of personal protective equipment.
For guidance on how to proceed with a claim, please contact us.
WSIB coverage is not provided for workers who are symptom-free even when quarantined or sent home on a precautionary basis. However, should a symptom-free worker develop symptoms or illness while in quarantine, they may be eligible for WSIB benefits.