Your collective agreement rights, financial issues & family concerns:
What is my employer doing about sick-leave and other leave in light of the pandemic?
My child’s school/daycare has closed and there is nobody to watch them. My child/spouse is sick, likely with COVID-19, what are my rights? Can I work from home?
If you work in the B.C. public service or in the healthcare field, you can find specific information here:
Can I apply for Employment Insurance (EI)?
What are my recall rights if I’m laid off during the pandemic?
What else is our union doing to support working people during the pandemic?
What other resources are available to help workers and families at this time?
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has prepared a list of resources for workers and renters.
The Government of Canada has extended the deadline to file income tax returns.
The B.C. government is providing a temporary child care matching service for parents who are essential service workers.
The B.C. Ministry of Health offers useful guidance and resources for managing mental health during challenging times.
We'll post more information as it becomes available to us.
Do I need a doctor's note if I'm sick with COVID-19?
This decision came after our public call for an end to doctors’ notes during the pandemic, and the BC Family Doctors’ public letter that workers could present to their employers if asked for a sick note.
If your employer still insists on a note, please contact your steward or email@example.com.
My income is being affected by COVID-19. What financial supports are available to me?
1. Income replacement
- Employment Insurance (EI) regular benefits continue to be available and provides up to $573/week to people who have lost income. Apply online and follow the BCGEU's guide for assistance.
- EI Sickness Benefit is still available and the one-week waiting period has been waived. If you're sick or under quarantine and qualify for EI, you can apply online immediately. To be eligible you must show that you cannot work for medical reasons, your regular weekly earnings from work are down more than 40 per cent for at least one week, and you accumulated 600 hours of work in the 52 weeks before the start of your claim. Call 1-833-381-2725 or apply online.
- Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is a new program to provide $2,000/month to workers who have lost their income due to the COVID-19 pandemic and who would not normally qualify for EI. Applications for CERB will open April 6, 2020. CERB covers those who have:
- lost their job;
- are sick;
- quarantined or are taking care of someone else that is ill;
- working parents who must stay home to care for children who are sick or at home because of school/daycare closures;
- haven't been laid off but aren't getting a paycheque because their workplace is closed due to COVID-19.
- BC Emergency Benefit for Workers provides a one-time additional tax-free payment of $1,000 to those on EI or CERB. Check here for application instructions as they become available.
- Special GST credit payment is a one-time payment by early May of up to $400 for eligible individuals and $600 for eligible couples. No application is required; if eligible, you'll receive it automatically.
- Climate Action Tax Credit is a one-time enhancement payment in July of up to $564 for eligible families of four and $218 for eligible individuals. Children under 18 years of age must be registered for the CCB to qualify. No application required; the benefit is paid according to your income tax return.
- Increased Canada Child Benefit (CCB) is a one-time payment in May of $300 per child. No action required if you're already registered to receive the CCB.
- The existing Income Assistance program continues to be available for those in need with no other resources. Apply online, by phone (1-866-866-0800) or, if you are not ill, visit your local office. As of April 2, new emergency supports are available for those on Income Assistance.
- For people with disabilities: The existing Disability Assistance program continues to be available, as well as additional supports. Apply online, by phone (1-866-866-0800) or, if you are not ill, visit your local office.
- For seniors: Eligible seniors are automatically enrolled in existing programs, but applications can also be submitted online for the following programs:
Mortgages & Rent
- Many mortgage lending agencies, including the CMHC, now have tools available for mortgage deferral and other emergency options. Check with your lender to see what might be available for you at this time.
- BC Hydro is offering a COVID-19 Customer Assistance Program (option to defer bill payments or arrange flexible payment plans with no penalty) and their Customer Crisis Fund (up to $600 in grants to help pay bills) to assist customers impacted financially by COVID-19. As of April 1, BC Hydro is reducing its rates by 1% and offering new, targeted bill relief to provide immediate help to those most in need, including a credit for residential customers who have lost their jobs or are unable to work as a result of COVID-19.
- FortisBC is waiving late payment fees, suspending disconnections, and offering flexible payments options during the pandemic. Find more details, conditions and FAQs from FortisBC here.
- Telus is waiving various overage and roaming charges, offering flexible payment options and free channel previews and educational opportunities. Find more details, conditions and FAQs from Telus here.
- Shaw has opened up their Shaw Go WiFi network to everyone, Shaw customer or not. For its customers, Shaw has removed data caps on its internet plans and is offering a number of channels for free during the pandemic. More details from Shaw can be found here.
- Community Savings Credit Union is offering a six-month interest-free Line of Credit up to $2,500 to workers impacted by COVID-19.
- BC Student Loans has now placed a six-month, interest-free moratorium on repayment, starting April. Repayment will be paused automatically.
- Canada Student Loans has now placed a six-month, interest-free moratorium on repayment, starting April. Repayment will be paused automatically.
I have COVID-19 and I think I contracted it while at work. What do I do?
- Be sure you meet the conditions set out by WorkSafeBC to make a wage loss compensation claim:
- Evidence, either a medical diagnosis in a medical report or a non-medical factual evidence where other evidence establishes the existence of COVID-19.
- The nature of your work created a risk of contracting the disease that is significantly greater than the ordinary exposure risk of the general public (example: an acute care hospital worker who is treating patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19).
- You lose time from work after contracting the virus.
- If you meet the above conditions, file an application for workers’ compensation with WorkSafeBC here, like you would with any other workplace injury or disease. Application must be made by you, the worker, and not by your employer on your behalf. Because adjudication of claims takes time, it’s best to apply as soon as possible.
- If you are self-isolating, in quarantine or have been sent home on a precautionary basis, WorkSafeBC will NOT provide you with wage loss compensation as these measures are considered “preventative” and WorkSafeBC does not compensate for preventative reasons.
- Both the B.C. and Canadian governments have announced financial aid packages for people who are financially affected by the COVID-19 situation. We do not yet know how these measures will interact with any existing benefits schemes.
I'm concerned about my mental health and/or the mental health of someone I care about. What support is available?
If you need immediate support, contact one of the following:
- HealthLink BC: Provides 24/7, confidential health information and advice. Call 8-1-1 or visit: www.healthlinkbc.ca.
- Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre: Provides confidential, non-judgmental, free emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including thoughts of suicide. Call 604-872-3311 (Greater Vancouver), or toll-free 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433), or visit: www.crisiscentre.bc.ca.
- The KUU-US Crisis Response Service: Provides 24/7 culturally-aware crisis support to Indigenous people in B.C. Call 1-800-588-8717 or visit: www.kuu-uscrisisline.ca.
- Mental Health Digital Hub: A provincial website that provides information, services and education and awareness about mental health and substance use for adults, youth and children. Visit www.gov.bc.ca/mentalhealth.
- Bounce Back: A free evidence-based program designed to help youth and adults experiencing symptoms of mild to moderate depression, low mood or stress, with or without anxiety. Bounce Back® teaches effective skills to help people improve their mental health. Call toll-free: 1-866-639-0522 or visit: www.bouncebackbc.ca.
- MindHealthBC: Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, Providence Health Care and community partners have created an online mental health counselling program. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health or substance use challenges, please visit the website for information and recommendations for further support in Vancouver, Richmond and other coastal communities. Visit: www.mindhealthbc.ca.
- Heretohelp: Provides information about managing mental illness and maintaining good mental health, including self-management resources and screening self-tests for wellness, mood, anxiety and risky drinking. Visit: www.heretohelp.bc.ca.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) at work:
What should my employer be doing to protect my health and safety?
Following the direction of public health officials.
Following guidance from WorkSafeBC.
Identifying and assessing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in your workplace. This includes:
- Seriously considering whether workers can be safely kept in the workplace by curtailing non-essential work and having employees work remotely (from home) if possible;
- Ensuring workers do not come to work if:
- Anyone with COVID‐19-like symptoms such as a sore throat, fever, sneezing, or coughing must self‐isolate at home for a minimum of 10 days from onset of symptoms, until their symptoms are completely resolved.
- Workers who have travelled internationally. In these cases, they must remain away from the workplace for at least 14 days.
- Workers who live in the same household as a confirmed or clinical COVID-19 case who is self-isolating.
- Putting in place social distancing measures including: reconfiguring the physical workplace, limiting in-person gatherings and encouraging remote communication practices (teleconferencing);
- Educating workers on health and safety measures to prevent transmission of infectious diseases;
- Increasing workplace cleaning, providing necessary supplies, and reinforcing personal hygiene messaging to workers;
- Ensuring you have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
What if my supervisor or co-worker is ill and still at work?
You have the right to be directed to work at a safe distance from that individual.
Workers always have the right to refuse unsafe work as per Section 3.12 of the OHS Regulation. However, as a response to your work refusal, your employer can assign you to other work that is safe.
What if I have an underlying condition?
“Higher risk” people should seek medical help early if they become ill, and follow general preventative strategies against infection:
- Maintain social distance (when indoors or in closed spaces, keep two metres between yourself and others);
- Engage in protective self-isolation (avoid crowds or high-traffic areas, groups of children, and individuals who are sick, who have been in contact with someone who may have had COVID-19 in the last 14 days, or who have travelled internationally in the last 14 days);
- Take additional precautionary measures (wash hands regularly and avoid touching your face).
- Refusal of unsafe work: Follow these instructions to initiate the process. Note: You cannot lose pay while asserting your rights under the refusal of unsafe work provision of the OHS regulation. You are also protected from any adverse treatment due to a work refusal, thanks to provisions in the Workers’ Compensation Act (sections 150-153) that prohibit discriminatory action. Most BCGEU collective agreements include additional protection against reprisals.
- Medical accommodation (only for BCGEU members with an ongoing medical condition that meets the BC Human Rights Code definition of a physical disability): Members may make a request in writing (email is acceptable) for medical accommodation pursuant to the Human Rights Code of British Columbia. In your request, you must include the specific accommodation you’re requesting and the nature of your medical condition. If you’re concerned about privacy, you may submit this request to your employer's OHS or HR department. You will then need to secure a letter from your doctor that confirms your medical condition and advises on the restrictions or limitations required of your employer to accommodate your medical conditions and how the long the accommodation is required.
Do I need to wear a mask at work?
I'm a healthcare worker. I haven't been issued personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, masks and gowns. What should I do?
Overall, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure workers are properly informed, trained, equipped and supervised when working in settings at risk of exposure to COVID-19. The BCGEU expects employers to:
- Provide timely, specific and clear direction to workers on the infection control protocols they will follow to avoid exposure to the virus;
- Ensure there is sufficient PPE available for workers and provide the training to use it.
What if I'm at work and my client appears to be sick?
If you are not clear about the safe procedure for caring for your client and/or you don’t have the personal protective equipment (PPE) you believe you need, STOP and TELL YOUR SUPERVISOR IMMEDIATELY.
Your employer must assess if it is safe to provide care for your client by answering these questions BEFORE you do the work:
- Has the employer provided you with training and safe work procedures to deal with a person with COVID-19?
- Has the employer provided you with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE)?
- Have you received training on how to take your PPE on and off?
- Has the employer given you direction on how to dispose of contaminated materials?
What are my employer's obligations when there is a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case at the worksite?
- Ensure the health and safety of workers who provide care/services to people with COVID-19 (probable or confirmed).
- Ensure that workers and clients (where possible) with confirmed COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms, or others required to self-isolate, are not allowed in the workplace.
- As soon as possible, inform workers and clients who may have been exposed.
- Advise workers on what to do next. Workers should be advised to contact 8-1-1, and to use the self-assessment tool. Some workers may be required to self-isolate.
- Contact public health authorities for advice and assistance.
- Take steps to prevent additional exposure.
- Notify WorkSafeBC if the infection occurred at the workplace. Workers that become ill from their work may be entitled to compensation.
- Keep a record of employees that have been exposed at work.
What if I am concerned about my or others' mental health?
I am pregnant. What precautions should I take?
There is currently no evidence that those who are pregnant are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 or experiencing more serious outcomes from the disease. However, right now there is only limited data available about COVID-19 and pregnancy. Out of an abundance of caution, the following is recommended:
- Pregnant employees concerned about exposure to the virus should discuss with their employer options to be moved to an area where their risk of exposure is minimal. Your employer must ensure adequate infection control and personal protective measures are in place.
- If you require an accommodation because of your pregnancy status, the regular procedure is to be followed: contact your supervisor to request an accommodation, which could include alternate duties or allowing you to work from home if possible. If neither is possible, you may be placed on sick leave or paid general leave, depending on your employer and your specific circumstances.
- It is always important for pregnant workers to protect themselves from illnesses and take the appropriate steps to avoid and prevent infection. Following safe work procedures, wearing PPE as required, regular hand washing and other hygiene measures can help reduce the risk of getting an infection or spreading infection to others.
Are BCGEU events and meetings cancelled? When will they be rescheduled?
I have a grievance or another inquiry in progress. Is it still moving forward?
I have an urgent concern at my workplace and can’t get in contact with my union steward. What can I do?
In light of the COVID-19 crisis, will the BCGEU temporarily suspend union dues to help offset the financial impacts of the pandemic on members?
We do not have the ability to suspend union dues at this time. Doing so would mean a loss of operating revenue that allows the union to pay our staff, and continue to operate at a time when our members are drawing heavily on the need for our shared resources. Without dues, we would cease to function as a union, and we would be unable to do advocacy on their behalf, enforce our collective agreement, or support the various occupational health and safety issues now arising urgently in the crisis.
We understand the stress the current pandemic is causing. It’s why, in addition to closely serving our members, we are advocating for key government reforms that will benefit our members, some of whom in the private and broader public sectors have been laid off.
If we lose our ability to advocate on behalf of members politically, we will not be able to push for and win the critical measures necessary to helping working people during the economic downturn of the pandemic.
I would like to direct you to the union’s pandemic response site, which outlines some of the important work being conducted now.
The COVID-19 illness:
I don’t have symptoms. Should I be going to work?
I have some symptoms. How can I find out if I might have COVID-19?
Where can I learn the latest about COVID-19 in B.C.?
- HealthLinkBC – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – a source of general information on a variety of aspects of the illness (see also: BCCDC – COVID-19)
- BC Centre for Disease Control – COVID-19 Care – a resource specifically designed for healthcare workers.
- The latest joint-statement from the BC Ministry of Health and the BC Provincial Health Officer – updates on the virus’s spread in our province and what actions the government is calling on residents to take. (see also: Government of Canada – COVID-19)