COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Will members be paid if they are in mandatory self-isolation?
Yes. Government has promised the unions that the employees will not lose pay during mandatory self-isolation. The NSGEU does not know what that will look like yet: depending on where you work, you could be covered by sick leave, or you could be placed on a form of Paid Administrative Leave, but government has made the promise that you will be paid and the NSGEU will hold them to that promise.
The NSGEU are still unsure of how most of our Casual or Relief members will be compensated during a period of mandatory isolation, but once the employer and government have advised us of the details, they will be shared with you. Civil Service Casuals will be paid sick leave for time lost due to illness or injury.
Q. How will time off be covered for members who are not members of the Civil Service or employed by the NSHA/IWK?
NSGEU members will by and large be placed on administrative leave if they must self-isolate.
With some employers, the NSGEU has suggested averaging hours for casuals and part-timers outside of their block hours. The NSGEU are still awaiting confirmation with these employers.
You will be placed on administrative leave if you are not sick, or sick leave if you are sick.
Here is some information on the Emergency Care Benefits announced by the Federal government on March 18th: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/apply-emergency-benefits-1.5501977
Q. Will employees of the Regional Centres for Education, Stock, and CSAP be paid for the two-week closure after March Break?
The NSGEU have been reassured by the government that all employees working within the public education system with regularly scheduled hours (so, term, probationary or permanent status employees, as well as long-term substitutes) will be paid and on administrative leave during this time.
The only exceptions to this would be employees who are currently or previously on extended leave (unrelated to COVID-19), and also employees who are call in to work. It is our expectation that staff who are reasonably and practically able to work from home during this period will do so. If that is not possible, employees will be placed on paid leave. If an employee starts to display symptoms or becomes ill, their leave will change from paid leave to sick leave.
Those employees who are feeling ill should refer to 811 and the public health protocols that are in place. Additionally, employees will not be asked for medical notes. While government has not made any determinations surrounding proof of travel at this time, it would be prudent to maintain some proof of the travel out of the country.
General Health & Safety
Q. I am concerned that I may have been exposed to someone who is either ill or who has travelled outside of Canada. What should I do?
As of March 17th, 2020, the instruction to self-isolate pertains only to those who have travelled or are ill and does not extend (yet) to those who may have been in contact. Please check https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/ for up-to-date information & recommendations, or https://when-to-call-about-covid19.novascotia.ca/en for Nova Scotia’s self-screening tool.
Q. I/a co-worker returned home from a trip outside of Canada prior to the government announcement on Friday, March 13th regarding mandatory isolation. Should I/they be self-isolating?
Please check with your manager before coming into work.
Q. I have been traveling or plan to travel within Canada. Will I be able to return to work when I get back?
As of the time of writing this FAQ, only travel outside of Canada requires the 14-day mandatory self-isolation period. However, this is a rapidly evolving situation, so that could change to include domestic travel.
Q. I am immune compromised/I live with someone who is immune compromised. I am concerned I may come into contact with someone at work (either a client or patient) who either has COVID-19 or has been exposed, and could contract it/unknowingly spread it to my immune compromised loved one. Can I refuse this work?
If you are immune compromised and believe there is a legitimate risk to your health, you have the right to refuse unsafe work under the Occupational Health & Safety Act’s Right to Refuse process, which includes protections from retaliation should they enact their right. Please visit https://novascotia.ca/lae/healthandsafety/employeeright.asp for additional information. Please note that you may be required to provide extensive medical documentation from your doctor as to why you cannot be in the workplace, request paid admin leave by their employer, as you are technically not sick, and must understand if denied you will be without pay while this issues is sorted out or grieved.
** Check out Pink Larkin’s COVID-19 Workplace Fact Sheet #1: When May an Employee Lawfully Refuse to Work?
Q. What should members do if they feel their workplace is unsafe (i.e. it does not allow for safe social distancing)?
Workers are protected under the Occupational Health & Safety Act’s Right to Refuse process. You must identify your concerns to a supervisor/manager first, and give them the opportunity to address the issue first. If the concern is not resolved safely, then it can be escalated the your OH& Committee. If it is still not resolved to your satisfaction, it should be flagged to the union.
The NSGEU are trying to proper PPE is available to all members who require it. Additionally, some non-essential services seem to be limiting hours or temporarily closing altogether.
Q. Could I be reassigned by my employer? If so, can I refuse?
Within healthcare: Healthcare workers may be deemed essential workers and may be reassigned to other areas and duties as there are other workers/fellow members returning from travel that will be under self-isolation for 14 days and may get sick.
If your work area is being closed, your employer has the right to reassign any work within your scope of practice and employment. The employer can assign you to work from home as they are limited to computers and access to what needs to be done in the workplace. In addition, some jobs must be done in the workplace.
Outside of health care: Reassignments may occur if your employer starts closing offices or locations, and are experiencing staff shortages at another location. The NSGEU are trying to be flexible within reason to assist during this difficult time.
Q. Are N-95 masks an effective means of protecting against COVID-19?
After meeting with infectious disease experts last week, it is our understanding that N95 masks are only required to be used by frontline health care workers who are performing Aerosol Generating Medical Procedures (AGMPs). Best evidence suggests COVID-19 is spread through droplet and direct contact, and is NOT an airborne pathogen. Therefore, the best preventative means to protect against contracting the virus are proper handwashing technique and practicing safe social distancing, wherever possible.
Health care workers who are deployed in assessment centres and other areas of frontline patient care will be provided with other effective Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks, eye shields, gowns and gloves. If you are concerned that your PPE is not adequate, please speak to your supervisor.
Having said this, the NSGEU will continue to advocate for the availability of N95 masks for all healthcare and community care workers who may be exposed to the virus.
Q. I am a nurse who is overdue for the Fit Testing for my N95 mask and I am being told that my employer cannot get this done until May. Can I refuse to be reassigned to treat COVID-19 patients?
If you are concerned about the lack of available PPE in your workplace, and believe there is a legitimate risk to your health as a result, you have the right to refuse unsafe work under the Occupational Health & Safety Act’s Right to Refuse process, which includes protections from retaliation should they enact their right. Please visit https://novascotia.ca/lae/healthandsafety/employeeright.asp for additional information.
Q. Why aren’t hospital staff being tested regularly for the virus? Aren’t the NSGEU potentially infecting each other and/or the public?
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, circumstances and issues are changing constantly. While ongoing testing of health care staff is an important and valid one, it is not a process that is currently being implemented. Additionally, the union has been advised that testing is not as effective with asymptomatic cases. However, if you would like to be tested, you should contact your manager and pose that question. This may help to facilitate discussions, if they aren’t already happening
Q. I work in a COVID-19 assessment centre. What do I do if I start presenting with symptoms?
If you become symptomatic in the workplace after working in the COVID-19 assessment centre, call SAFE and fill out a SIMM report, as this could be a WCB issue.
Q. What protective measures are being put in place to protect our home care workers?
Many home care agencies have been slow to respond to COVID-19 and what it may mean for home care workers and their clients. As a result, we are sharing a link to a document circulated by the Digby-Clare home care agency, which includes two pages about COVID-19 assessment at the end.
Other Common Issues
Q. Are there any emergency childcare plans in place for healthcare workers (or other public sector workers) who do not have family members/friends available to help care for their children? What should I do if I don’t have childcare?
It varies depending on department/agency/employer. Generally, employers’ stance seems to be that you are not entitled to admin leave for lack of childcare (although the union does not agree with this position), and you need to be actively looking for alternate arrangements. However, all employers have asked that employees discuss their situations with their managers to determine whether something can be worked out.
Q. Can people apply for EI if they have no childcare and no banked time to take?
The Federal government just announced an aid package on Wednesday, March 18th, which may be beneficial to workers in this situation. It is best to visit https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/03/canadas-covid-19-economic-response-plan-support-for-canadians-and-businesses.html to see what support is available to you.
Q. Will non-essential workers be sent home?
It is up to the employers to determine which employees are essential to operations. As of today, the NSGEU have not received word on who would be considered non-essential, but this evolving situation may lead to decisions on this soon.
Q. Why are some employees being permitted to work from home, and others who are able to are not being allowed to do so?
Different employers and agencies are working on plans regarding remote working plans, and the NSGEU hope to have more details on these plans in coming days.
Q. Do civil service members or other NSGEU members have access to any travel insurance via their group health/life plans?
Travel insurance is part of the Civil Service benefits package, but members are advised to check with the employer about eligibility during this period.
Q. The employer is requesting I cancel my vacation. Can this be done?
Yes, your employer can cancel vacation. However, many NSGEU collective agreements have language which requires reimbursement of vacation time and money, plus premium pay for hours worked if recalled from vacation. Please advise your employer at the time they cancel your vacation if you will be incurring a financial loss due to the cancellation and intend to submit a request for reimbursement. If you are denied, please contact us. If you have additional vacation to carry over put in a request to have to carried and if denied please contact the NSGEU.
Q. I am a nurse. What happens if I am recalled from my vacation during this time?
As per your collective agreement, your employer must make every reasonable effort not to recall you back to duty after you have proceeded on vacation leave or to cancel vacation leave once it has been approved.
If, during a period of approved vacation, you are recalled to duty, you will be reimbursed for reasonable expenses that you incur in proceeding to work, or returning to the place where you were on vacation, if you resume vacation after completing the assignment for which you were recalled.
Finally, if your vacation was approved and is cancelled by the employer, causing you to lose a monetary deposit on accommodations and/or travel, provided you do everything reasonably possible to mitigate the loss and you notify the employer that you will be losing your deposit, your employer will reimburse you for the deposit.
In addition, you will be paid at two times your regular rate for time worked during the period of recall, and your vacation and transportation time will either be added to your initial vacation time or reinstated for use at another time.
If you have any further concerns on this article, please contact your Employee Relations Officer.
Q. I want to cancel my vacation request: does the employer have to honour that request?
Technically, no. But with staffing shortages in some areas, the NSGEU does not anticipate most employers will have an issue with cancelling vacation requests.
Q. Can my employer change my schedule without the proper notice?
Your employer should be consulting with any individuals whose schedule they are changing to make sure it is feasible for the member. If it is, our advice is that members should all try to do what they can to pitch in.
Q. How long can my employer make me stay at work?
For most occupations, there is not a set amount of hours, but this is not any different than any other time you get stuck. You cannot just leave, but make sure you are clear to your employer if you do not feel safe being at work for a certain length of time.
For Registered Nurses/Licensed Practical Nurses and Nurse Practitioners (licensed health care professionals), only you can determine your “fitness to practice” and you will need to communicate this and send an email to your immediate supervisor. This will protect your license in the event there is a practice issue and you are forced to stay.
Published March 20th, 2020, Updated March 23rd, 2020
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