Answers to some Frequently-Asked Questions
The Manitoba Government has prepared an information page for government employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. We encourage members to review it.
The MGEU has also created answers below 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. What happens after there is a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case in my workplace?
A. Every positive COVID-19 test result in Manitoba prompts an immediate “contact tracing” investigation by Public Health. The investigation begins immediately to determine the nature of an infected person’s activities, going back 48 hours before the development of overt symptoms. This time-frame allows for a thorough examination of a person’s activity even before they may have noticed symptoms or felt unwell. Potential points of contact – including family members, colleagues, and locations frequented – are identified and steps taken to determine the potential exposure.
Your employer may receive specific instruction from Public Health should an increased risk of transmission be identified as a result of contact tracing.
Staff determined to have had possible significant exposure will be contacted, asked to self-isolate at home and to self-monitor for symptoms. Staff contacted and told to self-isolate at home should notify their manager. Public Health only contacts those at risk of exposure. Staff not contacted and given specific instruction to stay home should continue to go to work.
In cases involving health care workplaces, Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health (OESH) will also be called in to determine whether precautions are required for work colleagues, while Infection Prevention and Control (IP&C) will be called in to determine what precautions are required for patients or clients.
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 in the MGEU’s What to do if you must be off work document.
Q. How do I know if I am at higher risk related to COVID-19? What do I do if I’m high risk?
A. Your employer has a legal obligation to advise you of potential risk factors which may place you at a higher risk related to COVID-19, and to recognize that some employees may require accommodation during this time.
Workers who may require accommodation include
- have chronic medical conditions (including but not limited to chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, cerebrovascular disease such as past stroke, and significant obesity);
- are immune-compromised
(including cancer or organ transplantation) or those taking immune-weakening
- are aged 65 and older;
- are pregnant (particularly if there are complications such as preeclampsia, anemia, advanced maternal age, obesity and post-partum hemorrhage).
If you have a medical condition or other personal health issue which may affect your ability to work safely or perform your duties right now, please contact your staff rep through the MGEU Resource Centre and together you can proceed with a request for accommodation.
This will require a medical note from your Primary Care Provider (or specialist, if appropriate). The note should provide the general nature of the condition and any additional information necessary to assess and support your request for accommodation.
If you work in health care…
The department of Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health (OESH) has been designated as responsible within certain sites for receiving and assessing COVID-19-related requests for accommodation in health care workplaces.
The OESH will review all requests, supporting medical documentation, and other relevant information as part of the decision-making process. OESH will work with you, management, and the MGEU to determine whether accommodation is necessary and, if so, how to best accommodate you. If accommodation is required, accommodation plans will be customized based on your needs and abilities.
For all other workplaces…
Once you’ve submitted the request to your employer, management will meet with you and your union rep to discuss whether accommodation is necessary and, if so, how to best accommodate you. If accommodation is required, accommodation plans will be customized based on your needs and abilities.
Q. What do I do if I feel my employer isn’t doing enough to protect me in the workplace?
A. You have the right to seek information and also expect action.
If you have concerns, you have the right to express them to your supervisor and ask for clarification.
If you still have concerns, you should seek out a member of your Workplace Safety and Health Committee. They can assist you in further discussions with your employer and may even choose to call a special meeting with management to discuss urgent matters.
You can also contact the MGEU Resource Centre and they’ll put you in touch with an appropriate union rep to take your concerns forward.
In the end, the union can assist you in making a complaint to the Workplace Safety and Health Branch (1-855-957-SAFE) or file a grievance.
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 situation. 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 contact the MGEU Resource Centre, who can put you in touch with them.
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.
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.
The MGEU has urged 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 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. What do I do if 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.
Learn more in the MGEU’s What to do if you must be off work document.
Q. I feel nervous leaving the house but I am still required to work. What can I do?
A. Under Manitoba’s Workplace Safety and Health laws, your employer has to do all that is reasonable and practicable to provide for your welfare while performing work. The first thing you should do is discuss the matter with your supervisor and explain what you’re feeling and explore if it’s possible for you to work from home. If this is not possible and your employer requires you to come in to work during the pandemic, it’s important to maintain a distance of at least two meters between yourself and others. Wear a non-medical mask, practice good and thorough hand washing techniques, and keep your workspace as clean as possible. Stay home if you are exhibiting signs of a fever, cough, runny nose, or other symptoms of illness.
Q. What can I do if I am very anxious at this time?
A. The Canadian Mental Health Association says that stress and anxiety are natural reactions to uncertain and challenging times like these. Using relaxation techniques like yoga, creative expression, journaling, or exercising are helpful in dealing with stress.
Q. What if I, a family member, or a co-worker experiences a mental health crisis during the pandemic?
A. If you feel like you need to speak with someone who can give you advice on mental health or need to speak to a social service or other professionals, there are a number of resources in Manitoba that can help. Go to the Manitoba Government's mental health crisis and non-crisis regional contact page. It includes province-wide as well as regional contacts.