Employer still not letting you work from home? How to navigate coronavirus office upheaval

In the last week, health officials across Canada have urged residents to stay at home, socially isolate as much as possible and limit the number of people they interact with.

Premiers in multiple provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have emphasized that gatherings of over 50 people, and smaller group interactions, should not happen during the coronavirus pandemic.

But not every employer has followed government directions to allow staff to work from home or to close shop if being physically at work isn’t absolutely paramount — like those who work in essential services like at a hospital or grocery store. 

The coronavirus pandemic has created many precarious employment situations, including reduced hours at a service job, needing extra time off to take care of children or not enough safety precautions being implemented if you do have to be at work. 

As a result, more than 500,000 people across the country have applied for Employment Insurance (EI) or financial assistance compared to 27,000 this time last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a press conference on March 20. 

Rachel, who is in her 30s and works for a licensed cannabis store in Ontario, told Global News she’s concerned about her obligations to work physically at the store while it remains open. Her name has been changed due to fear of reprisal by her employer. 

She’s unsure if she qualifies for employment insurance after her hours were reduced this week to four to eight hours, down from a 40-hour work schedule. 

The store’s staff were given the option to opt-out of the single shift if they don’t feel comfortable — but she’s concerned that wouldn’t qualify as being laid off if she were to apply for assistance, she said.

“I have not seen anything that applies specifically to workers who are seeing their hours cut, yet are still technically employed,” she said,

There’s also “no financial support being offered by the companies themselves that are requiring the staff to come in,” she said. 

Opting out of her shift doesn’t feel like a genuine option as she’s concerned about keeping her job if she decides not to work, she said. 

While the store is limiting the number of customers to five and providing staff with hand sanitizer, she said, allowing groups to line-up for cannabis is making her feel unsafe at work.

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