Skip to main content

After a year of economic turmoil caused by COVID-19 that has resulted in mass layoffs, hasty recalls and huge workplace changes, many Canadians have become uncertain about their employment prospects and their roles at work.

As companies hurried to provide quick solutions to large and complicated problems, many employees were left with questions:

  • What are the rights of workers when it comes to workplace health and safety?
  • What are employees entitled to in the case of a mass temporary layoff?
  • Now that remote work has been proven to work for certain professions, can companies really mandate employees return to work in offices?

Employment lawyer Daniel Lublin (Whitten and Lublin Employment) joined Globe Careers editor Stephanie Chan to tackle some of the largest and most controversial questions surrounding the current landscape of work, along with the most common queries employment law offices are receiving.

Layoffs during COVID-19

Layoffs have played a significant role in employment law during COVID-19, says Toronto employment lawyer Daniel Lublin. Layoffs have been ”the single biggest issue we’ve had to deal with as employment lawyers,” he said.

Most employment contracts drawn up prior to COVID-19 make no mention of layoffs. Previously, layoffs were usually industry-specific or situation-specific. This has led to a grey area legislatively and contract-wise, the effects of which are still being dealt with today.

Can I be forced to take a pay cut because of the pandemic?

An employer doesn’t have a right to fundamentally reduce an individual’s pay, says Daniel Lublin, whether it’s the amount of hours they work, the amount of pay they receive for each of those hours, their negotiated bonuses, their commission or the monetary value of the benefits package they’ve been given.

In general, Lublin says that an overall compensation decrease of 10-15 per cent may give grounds for a constructive dismissal case – essentially arguing that an employer has terminated the employment contract and is proposing a rehire with lower compensation. However, COVID-19 has led to many employers implementing such cuts, and many employees may have felt compelled to simply accept the decision given the uncertain circumstances.

Are there minimum health and safety standards employers need to meet?

While there are minimum safety standards that employers are required to implement to create safe and healthy workplaces, employees should be careful with which health concerns are legitimate health concerns and which may be more subjective concerns. Employers are also not legally responsible for the period of time getting to and from work, which means that they are not responsible for concerns related to public transportation.

What remote work policies can be included in a contract?

You can expect to see many more employment contracts with remote work clauses included, and employees should negotiate them as needed. Current employees should also note that while employers are not allowed to discriminate based on human rights characteristics, they are legally allowed to choose who gets to perform remote work.

How can employees best negotiate their next employment contract?

Lublin recommends refusing layoff clauses if an employer tries to include one. In the case of a potential layoff, employees with layoff clauses are more likely to be the first ones laid off. Employees should also be wary of “bare minimum”-type severance clauses, which could decrease the amount that one is entitled to.

Watch ‘How employment rights changed during COVID-19′ below:
More reading:

Can my new employer take legal action if I have a secret start-up?

With spare time during the pandemic, hobbyists are starting their own micro-ecommerce businesses

Can my employer reduce my salary because I moved out of the city?

I moved to a different country after I was laid off. What happens when I’m recalled?

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.