Know Your Rights During a Pandemic

Part of our guide to your rights as a worker in B.C.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in BC are being laid off, and often sent home without pay. Despite all of the chaos, workers still have rights! 

After hearing so many of the injustices happening to workers right now, we’ve put together a quick guide to help you through all of this.

If you are a unionized worker your rights might be different. Check your collective agreement or speak with your union representative.

We know this is a lot of information and it’s challenging for everyone. If you could use back-up, contact us for help!

We will be updating this page often and as new information becomes available, but please contact us if you think something important is missing.

What is my employer supposed to do to keep me safe at work?

Find the full up-to-date information about what protocols your workplace must follow on the WorkSafeBC website.

Here are some things that are required:

  • Your workplace must develop a COVID safety plan to reduce risk of COVID transmission. The plan must be posted at the worksite and should explain how your employer is protecting workers from COVID 19 exposure.
  • Employers must include workers when creating their safety plans to make sure workers’ concerns are heard and accounted for.
  • Your employer must also follow all relevant orders from the Provincial Health Officer. For example the health officer has ordered that restaurants, cafes, bars, etc. must not exceed 50% of their usual capacity of patrons at one time. Customer parties can’t be larger than 6 people, and tables must be at least 2 metres apart. The latest mandate for the restaurant, bar and hospitality industry can be found here.
  • Employers must ensure that every worker performs a daily health check before entering the workplace

If you work in a retail store, your employer should limit the number of customers in the store, create an environment where customers can practice safe physical distancing of 2 metres (including distancing from you!)

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What about sick customers?

  • Customers with symptoms must stay away from the store. Of course, this is hard to enforce. Your employer can put up signs at the door communicating that customers with symptoms cannot enter.
  • Employers should ask customers who arrive with cold, flu, or COVID-like symptoms to return home and use a delivery service instead.
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My employer doesn’t have a COVID safety plan and I feel unsafe at work. What can I do?

  • WorkSafe BC protects your right to refuse unsafe work where there is an undue hazard to the health and safety of the worker. An undue hazard is anything that carries “unwarranted” or “disproportionate” risk.
  • You do not need to prove that something is an undue hazard, and only need to have “reasonable cause” to believe that it is;
  • In order to be protected by the right to refuse unsafe work, you must first report the unsafe condition to their supervisor or employer, who is required to investigate and fix it immediately;
  •  If your employer doesn’t solve the issue and you still think conditions are unsafe, you can tell them they are obligated to investigate the matter again in the presence of you and another worker. If you are unionized they must investigate with you and a union representative. If the matter remains unresolved, contact Worksafe at 1-888-621-7233. A prevention officer will come in to investigate. Your employer must not require you to perform unsafe work during this process.
  • If you are unsure as to whether what you are experiencing constitutes an unsafe workplace, you can contact WorkSafe at 1-888-621-7233
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🡪 Contact us for support.

Call us at 1-888- 482-1837 or fill in this form.

You have the right to refuse unsafe work.

What if I get in trouble for refusing unsafe work or reporting my workplace?

It’s illegal for your employer to penalize you for raising a health or safety issue.  Find out exactly what actions are illegal here.

  • If you are in this situation, you can file a Discriminatory Action complaint with WorkSafe.
  • You will have to speak with a prevention officer, and then fill out a form about what took place. Then you should hear back within 48 hours.
  • Common remedies include removing things from your record, paying back wages you lost, and giving you your job back.
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What if I can’t work because I’m sick?

If you have symptoms associated with COVID-19 you must self-isolate for 14 days and stay home from work. Symptoms include: sore throat, fever, sneezing, coughing, loss of sense of smell or taste, shortness of breath, headache, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

COVID-19 paid sick leave

    • Under the B.C. Employment Standards Act, employees can take up to 3 paid sick days if they need to stay home because of COVID-19
    • The paid sick days apply, for example, if you are diagnosed with COVID-19, waiting for COVID-19 test results, needing to self isolate or self monitor, staying home because your employer has asked you to due to workplace exposure, or following a public health order 
    • Applies to full-time and part-time workers
    • A doctor’s note is not required
    • *Applies to employees covered under the Employment Standards Act who don’t already have employer-paid sick leave
    • Your employer must pay you your average day’s pay, calculated by dividing wages earned in the 30 days prior by the number of days you worked. (including any vacation days you may have taken, but excluding overtime pay). 
    • Starts May 20 and expires Dec 31 2021
  • If you do not have paid sick leave through your employer, you may be eligible for Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB). This provides you with $500 a week (before taxes) for up to 4 weeks if you are unable to work at least 50% of your scheduled work week because you’re self-isolating for one of the following reasons:

      • You are sick with COVID-19 or may have COVID-19 
      • You are advised to self-isolate due to COVID-19 
      • You have an underlying health condition that puts you at greater risk of getting COVID-19. 


      • You earned at least $5,000 in 2019, 2020, or in the 12 months before the date you applied for EI.
  • If your employer sends you home from work for being sick, you are entitled to a minimum daily pay of 2 hours. For example, if you arrive to work with a cough, and your employer sends you home, you must be paid 2 hours pay at your regular rate.
  • You are entitled to unpaid, job-protected leave (e.g. you can’t be fired) if:
      • You are helping a dependent get vaccinated
      • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 
      • You are in isolation or in quarantine following an order or guideline from a public agency (e.g. from the Public Health Officer)
      • Your employer has directed you not to work out of concern about your exposure to others 
      • You can’t work because you are caring for a child who is at home due to school or daycare closures
      • You are outside of the province and can’t return because of border/travel restrictions
      • You are more susceptible to COVID 19 because of an underlying health condition or illness and are receiving the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit 
      • If the employer’s business operations have been suspended or discontinued at the time the employee’s leave ends, the employer must comply with s.54(2) of the Employment Standards Act when operations resume (cannot fire an employee, or change a condition of their employment without written consent).
      • This leave is retro-active to January 27, 2020 (e.g. if you were fired after this date you must be reinstated).
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🡪 We believe workers should have permanent and accessible paid sick days.

If you agree, sign the petition for at least 7 permanent paid sick days!

What if I contract COVID-19 at work?

You can file a WorkSafe BC claim for COVID-19 virus infection contracted as a direct result of your employment. Call WorkSafe at 1-888-967-5377.

You may receive compensation if two conditions are met:

  • You must be diagnosed with COVID-19, OR have non-medical factual evidence where other evidence establishes the existence of COVID-19.
  • The nature of your employment created a risk of contracting the disease significantly greater than the ordinary exposure risk of the public at large.
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What do I do if I was laid off or my hours were dramatically reduced?

Your Rights

  • If you were fired without cause you may be owed severance pay if you have been employed for over 3 months.
  • If your hours are cut to the point where you earn less than 50% of your average weekly wages, this is considered a layoff. If you don’t agree to the layoff it might be considered a termination by your employer and you may be owed severance pay. If you accept severance pay, you’ve accepted that it’s a termination of your employment.
  • Your employer may ask you to agree to the layoff and sign an agreement that you are on a “temporary layoff”. If you agree to the layoff you are still considered employed. Your employer must tell you in advance when you are returning to work and give you reasonable notice of your return date.

Getting Paid

  • Contact us for help filing a complaint with the BC Employment Standards Branch if your boss owes you severance, unpaid wages, or vacation pay.
  • The amount of notice or severance pay, that you are owed, is calculated based on how long you have been employed. You must have been employed for a minimum of 3 months.

If you were laid off on a permanent basis and do not qualify for either the CRSB or the CRB, you may be eligible for regular Employment Insurance:

    • You may be eligible if you worked at least 120 insurable hours in the past 52 weeks, and if you have not quit your job voluntarily
    • If eligible, you’ll receive at least $500/week before taxes 
    • Apply online
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What if I need to stay home from work to care for a sick family member or my child who can’t go to school?

Your Rights

  • You are now entitled to unpaid, job-protected leave (e.g. you can’t be fired) if you need time off to care for a dependent for a reason related to COVID-19 (including school and daycare closures)
  • In general you are allowed up to 16 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a critically-ill family member over 19 years old, and 36 weeks for a family member under 19.

Getting Paid

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What about mental health? What support is out there? 

The BC government is expanding free and accessible online mental health support. Here’s a list of programs you can access. 

As well please contact us at to learn about our free (Zoom) registered counselling services for precarious, non-unionized workers that do not have sufficient benefits to support them.

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Receiving financial support

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit is now closed (See ‘B.C. Recovery Benefit’ below). However, you may be able to apply for retroactive assistance if you experienced a loss of employment for 14 or more days due to COVID-19, and this loss of employment occurred between December 19, 2019 and October 3, 2020. Find out if you’re eligible for retroactive assistance here

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The B.C. Recovery Benefit 

The BC government is providing a one-time payment of up to $1000 for eligible families and single parents, and up to $500 for individuals. Apply here by June 30, 2021.

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Student loans

Effective October 1, 2020, the Government of Canada will introduce a new Medical and Parental Leave for students taking temporary leave from their studies for medical or parental reasons, including mental health reasons. It offers interest and payment-free for six-month periods, up to a maximum of 18 consecutive months.

The Canada Student Grant for Full-Time Students will increase up to a maximum of $6,000 and the grant for part-time studies to $3,600. The Canada Student Grants for Students with Permanent Disabilities and Students with Dependants will also be doubled.

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Green jobs & internships

If you are interested in or are currently undertaking studies in a STEM field, you may want to apply for an eco internship. As part of the COVID-19 economic recovery program, the Canadian government has funded creation of 500 internships, particularly for those living in rural and remote areas. Click the link above to see more.

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Do tips count as income for EI?

You may be able to include tips as insurable earnings when you apply for EI. It depends on whether your tips are “controlled tips” or “direct tips”

  • Controlled tips: tips an employer controls or possesses and pays to the employee. (e.g. tips allocated to employees using a tipping pool, a tip-sharing formula determined by the employer, or employer adds a mandatory service charge to a client’s bill to cover tips)
  • Direct tips: tips an employer has no control over. (e.g. a customer leaves a tip and the server keeps the whole amount, or when employees and not the employer decide how the tips are pooled or shared). For more examples see the CRA policy controlled vs direct tips.
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3-hour paid leave for COVID-19 vaccination

  • Under the B.C. Employment Standards Act, employees can take up to 3 hours of paid leave to get each dose of their COVID-19 vaccine (retroactive to April 19 2021). If needed, you can take additional paid leave for a second dose.
  • Applies to full-time and part-time workers no matter how long you’ve been employed
  • Who pays? Your employer is required to pay you for the 3 hours if you you need to leave or interrupt your work day to get vaccinated 
  • An employer cannot ask you for a doctor’s note or proof you received a vaccine. They can ask you for proof of a vaccination appointment
  • If you are helping a child or dependent get vaccinated you are entitled to unpaid job protected leave for doing so
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