What Rights do Retail Employees Have in COVID-19?

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By Devin Partida

Canadian retail employees have dealt with uncertainty throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Questions about health and safety, as well as new workflows and regulations, have been on employees’ minds for months. Some of the most pressing among these are concerns over workers’ rights amid the pandemic.

In the face of changing hours and layoffs, you may wonder what legal protections you have. Governments at both the regional and national levels have enacted some new safeguards for employees.

If you understand these, you can know what to expect from your employer and take action if they infringe on your rights.

Health and Safety Rights

Every employed Canadian has the right to a safe workplace under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Amid the pandemic, that means your employer must adhere to new health and safety regulations. If you’re not an essential worker, your employer can’t require you to work as usual.

That said, if your employer has adjusted your work to fit new guidelines, you still have to work. Even if you’re concerned about the virus, you have to go in if your workplace adheres to COVID safety standards. Much of Canadian retail falls under the list of essential services, so you’re likely required to work.

You may be able to work from home amid the pandemic. While the law doesn't require employers to enable remote work, you may have a right to it. For example, if you have to stay home to care for your children, your employer has to accommodate remote work.

Employment Rights

One of the most pressing concerns facing retail employees right now is their employment status. Some major retailers like Reitmans had laid off as much as 90% of their in-store workers during the spring shutdowns. While your employer has the right to lay you off in most cases, you do have some extra protection.

In most provinces, workers have the right to extended job-protected leave under specific COVID-related concerns. For example, if you're in mandated quarantine or have contracted COVID-19, you can take advantage of this leave. These protections are similar to the Anti-Retaliation Ordinance in Chicago in the United States.

In all provinces, the government has extended the temporary layoff period for most employers. Your employer now has up to six months to recall you after a layoff.

Right to Information

The pandemic can be a confusing time. Thankfully, you have the right to some information. Part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act gives employees the "right to know." Under this provision, you have the right to get information about potential health risks from your employer.

Amid COVID-19, this could come into play if one of your coworkers contracts the virus. Depending on the size of your workplace, your employer may have to inform you if someone you might've come into contact with is diagnosed with COVID-19. If you contract COVID, your employer may have to tell your coworkers but must respect any privacy legislation.

Your employer also has to inform you about any regulatory changes. If new legislation affects your workflow, you have the right to know about it. These legal protections can help dispel some uncertainty you may face.

Know Your Rights Amid COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic can be a challenging time, but you have some legal protection amid the chaos. It's critical that all Canadian retail workers know their rights so that they can protect themselves from any further distress. Since legislation is continually changing, it's also crucial for employees to stay up-to-date.

If you think your employer has violated any of these rights, consult a legal expert. The pandemic hasn't been easy on anyone, but hopefully, this legislation will help minimize the damage.

Devin Partida

Devin Partida is a writer and blogger, as well as the Editor-in-Chief of

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