COVID-19: What you need to know
At home and at work, this is an
uneasy time for all Manitobans. The pace and complexity of the
COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing we’ve seen before, and we
know our members have lots of questions. In the coming weeks, we’ll be
working hard to update members regularly on this page and via email. If you are a member and would like to receive email updates, you can update your information here.
Here is what we know as of March 26, 2020. Our Provincial public health officials have made several recommendations to Manitobans and employers aimed at helping to slow transmission of the virus — find the latest, evidence-based advice that all Manitobans should follow on the Manitoba Government COVID-19 website.
The MGEU has called on the Premier to top up employment insurance benefits for those laid off (you can send a message here) and provide hero/hazard pay for those on the frontlines. We have also communicated with employers and called on them to:
- redeploy workers, instead of laying off staff;
- develop plans and means to communicate with staff on their workplace response to the COVID-19 pandemic;
- suspend the requirement for routine medical notes when employees self identify as sick;
- maximize social distancing in the workplace and promote working-from-home arrangements wherever possible;
- develop contingency plans for workers who must self isolate, including appropriate paid leave provisions for workers following official public health advice;
- take steps to provide clean hand washing facilities and alcohol-based hand cleansers in the workplace;
- undertake regular cleaning and disinfection of workstations and frequently touched surfaces (doorknobs, handles, elevator buttons, and railings);
- reduce or eliminate all work related interprovincial or international travel for employees; and
- develop a process to accommodate workers with child care responsibilities during this health emergency.
We will continue working with members and employers to resolve issues that arise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Updated March 25, 2020, including info re: the Federal government's new Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
If you work for the Civil Service (MGEU Locals 1 – 55), we encourage you to review the employer’s comprehensive Q and A on this issue (accessed on the government intranet - https://mbgps.intranet.mbgov.ca/covid-19/).
For all other Locals, here are answers to some of the most common questions we’re receiving from members based on the information available at this time.
If you have other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the MGEU Resource Centre. The situation is often changing by the day, and even by the hour, but we will always do our best to get you the latest information.
Q. I want to work from home. Can I do that?
A. Public health officials are calling for “social distancing,” including allowing employees to work from home where possible. The MGEU is encouraging employers to actively pursue this option to allow employees to keep their maximum “social distance.”
Many factors influence the decision to establish a work at home situation, including:
- the type of work, and whether it can
effectively be done away from the workplace; and
- access to appropriate equipment such as a laptop and a remote connection.
If you feel working from home is a viable alternative for you, you should speak to your supervisor or manager about how this could be arranged.
Legally each employer does have the right to determine its own policy. If you have concerns about your employer’s approach to this issue, contact the MGEU Resource Centre.
Q. If I have to go in to work, how do I make sure I am protecting myself and others from infection?
A. Public health officials are recommending that all Manitobans minimize prolonged (more than 10 minutes) and close (less than two meters) contact with others. They have also recommended compliance on a number of workplace cleanliness measures.
The MGEU is encouraging all employers to:
- Arrange for essential meetings to be conducted by phone;
- Minimize or eliminate in-person contact in all directions (staff to staff, staff to client, staff to public);
- Stagger work hours;
- Reduce or eliminate work-related interprovincial or international travel for members.
- Provide hand washing facilities and alcohol-based hand cleansers in multiple locations throughout the workplace;
- Post signage in the workplace encouraging proper cough etiquette and hand washing;
- Undertake regular cleaning of workstations and objects that are touched frequently (doorknobs, handles, elevator buttons, railings) with disinfectant.
If you have concerns about your employer’s lack of precautionary measures, contact your Workplace Safety and Health rep, or the MGEU Resource Centre, who can put you in touch with them.
Q. What do I do once my child’s school or daycare closes and I don’t have alternate childcare arrangements?
A. First, it’s wise to document your reasonable attempts to find alternate care. Once it’s clear you cannot attend work because you must look after your children, you should immediately explain your predicament to your supervisor and ask for a work-from-home arrangement, the possibility of using accrued leave benefits, or a leave of absence.
If you are refused any of these accommodations, you should contact the MGEU Resource Centre.
Q. Will I be paid while I am absent to care for my children?
A. If your employer grants you leave due to childcare responsibilities, they are under no obligation to pay you while you are absent.
However, many employers have expressed willingness to allow their employees to use a variety of accrued benefits such as sick time, banked time and vacation accrual to minimize the financial impact of not being at work.
If you have spoken with your employer and you have no accrued benefits available, you can apply for the Federal government's Canada Emergency Response Benefit (formerly announced as the Emergency Care Benefit Plan).Learn more at What to do if you must be off work.
Q. If I have to self-isolate for fourteen days on the advice of public health officials or my doctor, what type of paid leave is available?
A. You may be able to use sick leave or other paid leave credits such as vacation or accrued overtime. Check with your supervisor or HR.
If you do not have paid sick leave or other paid leave credits such as vacation or accrued overtime, you may apply for Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness benefits. EI sickness benefits provide up to 15 weeks of income replacement and are available to eligible claimants who are unable to work because of illness, injury or quarantine, to allow them time to restore their health and return to work. If you are mandated to quarantine, you will not need to provide a sick note.
Learn more at What to do if you must be off work.
Q. Will I need a sick note if I call in sick right now?
A. Public health officials have recommended relaxing the requirement for sick notes to encourage sick employees to stay home and recover rather than visiting medical facilities.
We are urging employers to waive any requirements for routine sick notes, but each employer has the right to determine their own policy. If in doubt, check with your supervisor.
Q. I am in a high-risk category for experiencing extreme COVID-19 symptoms if infected. What can I do to stay safe?
A. We recommend immediately engaging both your doctor and your supervisor in discussions regarding a possible accommodation of your work duties to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
Q. What do I do if I believe my workplace is unsafe?
A. The Workplace Safety and Health Act gives employees the right to refuse particular work if they believe on reasonable grounds that the work constitutes a danger to their safety or health.
The work refusal process that may result from COVID-19 concerns is no different than it would be in any other situations. You should immediately speak with your supervisor or manager to explain your concern and explore appropriate ways to mitigate the risk.
If in doubt, we recommend you speak with the Workplace Safety and Health Rep in your workplace, or call the MGEU Resource Centre, who can put you in touch with them.
Q. What should I do if I have had contact with someone who is/was positive for COVID-19 through my work?
A. You should report the exposure to your supervisor immediately and make a report through your employer’s normal accident/incident reporting process as soon as possible.
Q. Should I file a claim with the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) if I believe I’ve contracted COVID-19?
A. You have the right to file a claim with the WCB if you have reason to believe you have acquired the COVID-19 virus through occupational exposure. The WCB will accept claims if criteria of The Workers Compensation Act and relevant policy are met.
Remember, if you file a WCB claim, you are also required to report any injury/illness to your employer as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days from the occurrence of the injury / illness.
If you file a claim, the WCB will undertake an investigation to determine whether you have acquired COVID-19 as a result of occupational exposure to the virus. Like any other claim, all claims are adjudicated based on the specifics of your circumstances.
Q. Are there time limits on filing a WCB claim?
A. Yes, ordinarily, claims must be filed with the WCB within 1 year of the occurrence of the injury / illness.