Worried About Your Job During the Pandemic? Here Are 10 Things Albertans Need to Know

1) You may be entitled to severance pay

Sometimes called “notice,” or a “severance package” or simply “a package,” severance pay represents payment to a worker by their employer which is due when the employer terminates an employment relationship without cause.

That “without cause” part can get confusing for people, because cause doesn’t just mean any reason. Even good reasons, like “we are in the middle of a pandemic,” or “I can’t afford to keep paying you,” or “the government has expanded EI benefits” do not rise to the level of cause. Cause means that the employee has done something so bad that it makes continuing to employ them unrealistic. Usually, even if you do something fairly stupid, you ought to get a warning first—so unless you have taken a swing at your boss recently, your conduct probably doesn’t rise to the level where they do not have to pay you severance.

2) You may be entitled to more than you think

Most people are aware of the Employment Standards Code, which mandates minimum amounts that employers have to pay employees by law when they are terminated, but did you know that this is just the starting point?

The Code sets out the bare minimum that employees must be paid, but courts, when asked, often say that people are entitled to quite a bit more. Rather than the arbitrary rules that are set out in the code, the court applies a flexible test to determine how much severance someone is entitled to, based on considerations like:

i. Age;

ii. Length of service (how long you worked for your employer);

iii. Seniority (are you management, or front line staff?);

iv. Your industry and type of work;

v. The availability of alternative employment; and

vi. Several other factors.

The upper limit for severance is roughly 2 years pay, including the value of benefits and employer pension contributions.

3) Being “laid off” is supposed to be temporary

Commonly, people use the term “laid off” to describe any situation where they have been let go, but they did not get fired for cause. In the Employment Standards

Code, a lay-off refers to a temporary lay off, which is one of the only ways an employer can get out of having to pay severance.

A temporary lay off can be for no longer than 60 days, after which your employer must hire you back. If they do not, then they have to pay you severance.

4) If you are quarantined, your employer has to hold your job for you

You have to jump through some hoops for this one, but if you get sick, and have to self isolate, you may be entitled to take long term unpaid sick leave, and the employer would then have to hold your job until you get back.

5) You may not qualify for EI

EI is not funded by your taxes, it is a government run insurance program. This means you can only benefit from it if you and your employer are paying into it. Most employers do (because they have to), but if you are self-employed, or you work in the gig economy, or you have an informal employment arrangement where you are paid in cash, you may not be entitled to EI.

This having been said, for the next few months, the government is going to be covering many people in the above situations through a special program, but you will need to keep your eye on things going forward.

6) You have the right to talk to a lawyer

Most lawyers are still working from home during the COVID 19 crisis and can still be reached by phone to give you advice. Often, the initial consultation is offered at low or no cost. Also, ask about the possibility of having a lawyer act for you on a contingency basis, where you pay nothing up front and pay the lawyer a percentage of the amount recovered.

7) There are time limits

Time limits apply both to claims for EI, and for claims through a lawyer in a lawsuit. Make sure that you don’t miss your deadlines.

8) You have the right to a safe working environment

If your boss asks you to do something that you think puts your health at risk, you can refuse to do it, and ask for OHS to investigate the issue. You cannot be disciplined for doing something that is unsafe.

If you get sick or injured because your boss made you do something unsafe or did not provide the necessary equipment or training to keep you safe, you may have the right to sue.

9) You may be entitled to workplace accommodations

If you get sick, or have to care for children, or have a disability, your employer may have an obligation to assign you alternative duties, or modify the manner in which you perform your duties, so long as the accommodations do not result in an undue hardship to the employer.

An example of an accommodation that is common in this crisis would be setting the employee up to work from home so that they can also care for their children which school is cancelled.

10) Maybe. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Trust me, don’t trust me. In fact, don’t trust any article you read on the internet about this stuff. Even if it is generally accurate, it may not be accurate for you. The rules vary depending on where you live, what your contract of employment says, whether you are unionized or not, and a host of other factors.

So, if the worst does happen, you need to call someone. Call a lawyer, call your union representative, or even call employment standards, but call someone and get proper tailored advice. This is about your livelihood. It’s kind of important.

Jonathan Denis