Regardless of whether you’re an employee or employer, the coronavirus pandemic brings with it plenty of uncertainty, especially when it comes to employment. One of the most common problems right now is that employers are needing to reduce their workforce. This is due to various market pressures and for the safety of their communities. So, what does this mean for employees? Keep reading to see a series of frequently asked questions regarding employment law that may help you during these troubling times.

Does the following information apply to me?

The following information applies to you if you are an employee who is:

  • Not unionized and working for a company in British Columbia;
  • Under the Employment Standards Act; or
  • Not working in a federally regulated profession.

What is severance and how much severance pay do I qualify for?

Given that you were in an indefinite employment agreement and fired without cause, severance is when your employer giving you reasonable notice to find replacement work. The period of reasonable notice, measured in weeks, depends on what is listed on your employment agreement. This value cannot be less than the minimums stated under the Employment Standards Act. 

The amount of severance pay you receive depends on whether your employment agreement indicated a maximum. The minimums under the Employment Standards Act are:

  • 1 week after 3 months of employment;
  • 2 weeks after 1 year of employment; and
  • 1 week per additional year of employment up to 8 weeks.

However, if your employment agreement doesn’t indicate a maximum, then the Courts will determine what is reasonable.

What happens if my employer offers more than the minimum severance in exchange for a release?

In general, the release is not binding on you if the employer requires it before you receive your minimums, either statutory or stated in your agreement.

Severance vs. laid off?

If you are laid off without cause, you are still entitled to the minimums. However, if you don’t get them then the first step is to apply for Employment Insurance and the Employment Standards Branch.

What is a temporary layoff?

There are no provisions in British Columbia that allow temporary layoffs. The only exceptions are if:

  • it is agreed to by the employees;
  • it is explicitly mentioned in the employee’s written agreement; or
  • it is allowed under a collective agreement.

What if none of these exceptions are true? Then, a temporary layoff equals termination. Therefore, you have the right to receiving the minimums.

For more information on temporary layoffs, see the following post.

What is constructive dismissal?

This is when an employer unilaterally, without warning, materially alters the terms of employment. As a result, the employee is terminated from the original position.

Can I take time off because of COVID-19?

Yes. The BC Human Rights Tribunal will treat COVID-19 as a “physical disability.” Thus, employers cannot discriminate against an employee who has or believes to have COVID-19. In addition, employees who cannot work because they need to take care of a family member or no longer have access to childcare are protected under the BC Human Rights Code.

Where can I get more information on employment law during COVID-19?

The team at Sodagar & Co. is committed to staying informed with the ever-changing circumstances presented by COVID-19. Our goal is to provide the best advice to our clients and to answer any questions they may have. As we’ve mentioned, we are happy to communicate with you via telephone, email, and video conference.

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