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:
My income is being affected by COVID-19. What financial supports are available to me?
1. Income replacement
Currently there are three income replacement benefits available directly from the Canadian government to workers whose income has been affected by COVID-19. These benefits are:
- The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) - Discontinued
- After CERB - Transitioning to New Benefits
- Employment Insurance (EI) Regular Benefit
- Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefit
2. Income supplement
- For post-secondary students:
- The Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) provides $1,250 per four-week period to post-secondary students, and recent post-secondary and high school graduates, who are unable to find work due to COVID-19 and do not qualify for the CERB or EI.
- B.C. post-secondary students at public institutions who are not already able to study remotely can access non-repayable emergency assistance for living expenses, food, travel, portable computers and other supports via their school's financial aid office. Each post-secondary institution will determine the specific amount.
- The 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 eligibility criteria and application instructions. You can apply online starting May 1.
- 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. People on Disability who receive a bus pass or Compass Card will get $52 on their monthly cheques until fares are reinstated.
- For seniors: Eligible seniors are automatically enrolled in existing programs, but applications can also be submitted online for the following programs:
- For Indigenous people: The B.C. government is providing additional funding to supplement the Indigenous Emergency Assistance Fund. Indigenous students can contact the Indigenous Student Service Centre on their campus, which will help with the application process to receive the financial assistance.
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 Housing has temporarily suspended evictions of tenants in subsidized and affordable housing due to non-payment of rent.
- 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.
What are my recall rights if I’m laid off during the pandemic?
What other resources are available to help workers and families at this time?
- WE Well-being is a free, virtual program for youth experiencing anxiety and social isolation, placing special emphasis on social-emotional learning and resiliency.
- WE Schools @home offers free online tools and resources to complement and support at-home learning.
- EASE (Everyday Anxiety Strategies for Educators) at Home has been adapted for parents and caregivers to create calming routines, help their children talk about difficult emotions and manage their anxiety.
- Keep Learning is new site of resources for parents to support positive mental health, under the "Keeping Healthy" tab here.
- For more info about available child and mental-health supports and contacts, visit here.
The Hospital Employees' Union has prepared a list of businesses who are offering supports to health care workers.
Carleton University professor, Jennifer Robson, has prepared a plain language guide to help those trying to access government programs in the time of coronavirus.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has prepared a list of resources for workers and renters.
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 protected].
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.
I'm concerned about my mental health and/or the mental health of someone I care about. What support is available?
The B.C. government has launched new virtual mental health programs to help British Columbians cope with the pandemic. Virtual mental health resources are available for all ages, frontline healthcare workers, youth, seniors, victims of family or sexual violence, and Indigenous peoples.
Wellness Together Canada, a mental health portal available for all Canadians, provides free online resources, tools, apps and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals when needed.
The B.C. Ministry of Health and Addictions has developed five recommendations and a list of resources for people of all ages to manage stress, anxiety and depression during these challenging times. The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions's website has additional resources for mental health and related issues.
The Canadian Mental Health Association also has several resources available for managing mental health during COVID-19.
WellCan is a new, free mental health resource hub, provided by Morneau Shepell and other Canadian community and corporate partners, to help all Canadians maintain positive mental, physical, social and financial health during the COVID-19 pandemic. View their toolkit for individuals.
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.
- Here2Talk: Confidential, free single-session counselling and referral services by app, phone or online chat, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for post-secondary students from the Government of British Columbia. Visit here2talk.ca
I want to help those in need during this challenging time. What does the BCGEU suggest?
In addition, if your situation permits, you can:
- Donate blood
- Offer to run errands for people who need to stay inside
- Do "virtual babysitting" for people with children who are out of school/daycare
- Organize a "drive-by" or "walk-by" party
- Play an instrument where others can hear you
- Do a together-but-distant social visit from your porch or sidewalk
- Donate cash to food banks, homeless shelters, Doctors Without Borders, Medical Aid for Palestinians, food for people with precarious or no immigration status, etc.
- Continue to pay your preferred service providers while not using their service (e.g. hairdressers, barbers, housecleaners, etc.)
- Order food for delivery or pick-up
- Don't ask for a refund to the arts performance, concert or other event you had purchased tickets for that is now cancelled due to the pandemic
- Tip delivery workers generously
- Connect with friends and families virtually or with a distance of at least two metres
- Reach out frequently to those who may feel isolated (including elders)
- Buy from local stores rather than big chains where possible
- Join in your neighbourhood's daily "make noise to show gratitude & encouragement for frontline workers" event
- SMILE at people when you're out (and use one of these alternatives to hugs or handshakes)
- Surprise someone with a care package, handwritten letter, printed photo or home-decorated postcard, either dropped at their house or mailed
I’m on unpaid leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How will my health and dental benefits and my pension plan be affected?
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 fever/chills, cough, difficulty breathing, and/or a loss of taste or smell - 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).
If you have questions about what this means in your workplace, please contact your workplace OHS representative, steward or the BCGEU staff representative assigned to your workplace.
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.
What are the mask requirements at my work place?
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 mental health or others' mental health?
- the Ministry of Health’s website for useful guidance and resources the B.C. government's virtual mental health supports
- Wellness Together Canada, an online portal of resources free to all Canadians
- WorkSafeBC's website for additional mental health resources for workers.
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.
How can my workplace control exposure and protect workers from infectious disease?
What is the right to refuse unsafe work?
- Right to know about workplace hazards
- Right to participate in the OHS program
- Right to refuse unsafe work
- Right to worker protection in relation to prohibited action (formerly known as the “right to no discrimination”)
BCGEU members need to be aware of these rights when performing the tasks and duties of their occupation. Knowing these rights, and exercising them, allows you to work in the safest work environment possible.
How do I refuse unsafe work?
- Immediately report to your supervisor that you have stopped work and the reasons why you believe the job or task is unsafe. Your supervisor must investigate and decide that either “the work is unsafe, stop working” or “you are assigned alternate duties until hazards are eliminated or minimized” or “the work is deemed to be safe, please go back to work.” If you are unsatisfied with your supervisor’s decision, continue with this process.
- Request for an OHS Committee worker rep, union designate or your choice of co-worker to attend and assist with the investigation into unsafe work. You, your supervisor and your selected rep must go through the investigation process again and decide that either “the work is safe, return to work” or “the work is unsafe, we’ll make this safe before continuing work.” If you are still not satisfied with this decision, continue with this process.
- Your supervisor and you must notify WorkSafeBC. WorkSafeBC will assign an officer who must investigate without undue delay and issue their findings and any necessary orders. If WorkSafeBC deems the work to be safe, you must return to work. You can appeal WorkSafeBC’s decision; however you must comply with the investigation of the WorkSafeBC officer.
Please keep your union steward, local chair, staff rep and OHS Department informed throughout the process so they can assist you.
Is my right to refuse unsafe work different during the COVID-19 pandemic than other times?
What is considered an unsafe work situation during COVID-19?
- Failure of employees or public/clients to wear a mask;
- Failure of employers to provide appropriate PPE (e.g. plexiglass); and
- Lack of cleaning workspaces and/or employee communication when an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.
How do I find out the safety protocols for my workplace?
If you see anything unsafe in your work environment, or if you think a process hasn’t been laid out or followed properly, talk to your immediate supervisor and, if you are still in doubt, talk to your OHS rep. The OHS committee may have already dealt with a similar situation and can offer insight into your situation. If you’re unsure if a situation is unsafe, others could be wondering, too.
Do I get to walk off the job when I exercise my right to refuse unsafe work?
When I refuse unsafe work, what happens to the work?
If your employer asks another worker to do the work, your employer must inform them of the refusal and the reasons for the refusal.
You also have the right to worker protection in relation to prohibited action (formerly known as the “right to no discrimination”). This means you cannot be disciplined or penalized for raising concerns.
Who is my OHS rep? How do I get in touch with them?
The names and contact details of your OHS member reps should be posted at your worksite and provided to you during your orientation to the workplace. (If they’re not posted at your worksite or provided during orientation, please ask your employer to provide. If there is no list, ask your shop steward, local chairperson or local executive committee.)
You can also find the names and contact details of your OHS members reps once you’re logged into the BCGEU Member Portal at my.bcgeu.ca/login.
I work in my client’s home. Before COVID-19, my client’s family members weren’t around. But now they are at home while I’m working with the client, and some are not wearing masks. I feel unsafe. Is this a situation to refuse unsafe work?
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)