Antonio F. Urdaneta is a marathon runner, a workplace lawyer, investigator, compliance coach, and thought leader at Workplace Legal.  He is also the Memberships Director of one of TRIEC’S Professional Immigrant Networks: the Canadian Hispanic Bar Association. He uses coaching skills and tools to inform, advice and represent workplaces in digital and physical legal challenges and endeavours, including COVID-19 challenges.

Immigrant professionals have many challenges to overcome before and after landing in Canada. Some are in regulated industries that require them to qualify for a local licence before practising. Others have family priorities that push them to work in survival jobs at early stages, just to make ends meet. Add to all of this a pandemic, with its physical distancing, economic slowdown, and uncertainty, and it becomes clear immigrants are definitely being dramatically affected by these unprecedented times.

Tides seem to be turning though. We are cautiously resuming business.

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, and physical distancing is relaxed, immigrants will have to, like every other employer and employee in Canada, adapt to new realities in workplaces (and when searching for job opportunities). This may include reduced hours of work, preventing the spread of coronavirus, and managing work refusals.

Below are my recommendations for managing some of these realities as an immigrant professional.

1. Work refusals

Under health and safety laws workers have three basic rights: to know, to participate and to refuse. Basically, workers can refuse to perform work when they have a reason to believe that part or all the workplace’s physical condition is likely to endanger them. However, a worker cannot just say ‘I refuse to work’, because it may bring disciplinary consequences to that worker, up to and including termination.

Refusals must be reported, investigated, and a decision would be made as to whether it was appropriate or not, and whether the employer has taken or will undertake measures to control the workplace’s endangering conditions.

After a decision is made telling the worker to return to perform work, the worker has the choice to resign, with the consequences that resignation brings, i.e. ineligible to receive employment insurance or emergency response benefits, or not showing up for work and face the consequences of job abandonment, similar to a termination with cause.

2. Preventing the Spread of Covid-19

Health and safety mandates employers to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and COVID-19 is a highly infectious one.

The way employers prevent COVID-19 includes several steps, such as having a health and safety policy, which should be aligned with the nature of the business. For example, a food manufacturing plant would take different workers’ protective measures than office spaces – but both must have a health and safety policy preventing infectious diseases.

The health and safety policy will list the potential sources of contamination, the steps taken to prevent the spread of the virus, and the steps to take in case of contagion. Workers must be educated about the policy and supervisors trained on how to apply it.

3. Work Reduction

Physical distancing’s public health policies created three business realities. Those businesses that remained open, others that temporarily and completely closed, and those that continue, at least in part, operating digitally with a core group of employees.

This business activities’ reduction pushed businesses to reduce its workforce, through temporary layoffs, terminations without cause, granting unpaid job-protected emergency leave, or the implementation of the government’s emergency response programs. These emergency response programs are discretionary but allow employers to keep their workforce in payroll while transferring costs to other sources different than lower business revenues. These programs are:

  • Extended work-sharing program;
  • Up to 75% wage subsidy program;
  • Temporary 10% wage subsidy;

Employers would need to prepare to combine all these tools and programs, i.e. work refusal management, preventing the spread of coronavirus, and extended work-sharing program, or any other combination. Each workplace is different and will need to come up with the right strategy to overcome the specific challenges COVID-19 brings to them. If you’re an employers and haven’t done so yet, you may want to begin with reviewing the following resources:

So as we work toward safe reopening what should you do? If you are an employer, make sure that you understand your health and safety responsibilities well, and have a recovery plan post COVID-19. If you are an employee, make sure to understand both your rights and responsibilities.

And for those of you looking for jobs in these unprecedent times, I think that if you keep yourselves updated with the latest information from trustworthy sources, i.e. governments’ emergency responses, and keep an eye on the lists of industries and sectors that are allowed to resume business, you will be in a better position in the job market than those who do not.  And no matter what make sure to stay safe and stay healthy.