Did you know that the Ontario Ministry of Labour has a Q&A on how to deal with natural disasters in the workplace?
The Q&A, which can be found at the link listed below, covers issues such as whether or not an employee can be forced to take vacation days in the event of a natural disaster which prohibits him or her from working, or whether an employee must be paid if he or she is told to not come to work during the disaster.
Apart from basic issues covered in the Q&A, there are a number of other things to be aware of in the event of a natural disaster. The Emergency Management Statute Law Amendment Act, 2006 (Ontario) permits the Premier and Cabinet to introduce legislation intended to govern emergencies such as natural disasters. In addition, the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (Ontario) provides for unpaid emergency leave for declared emergencies such as natural disasters, which is different than the standard emergency leave to deal with an ill or injured family member.
While an employer may not wish its employees to come to work in the event of a natural disaster, there may also be situations where certain employees are in fact required to work precisely because of the natural disaster, even if the workplace is under quarantine. The ESA specifically permits certain employees to work in those situations, if their skills are required due to an emergency. Likewise, although employees may rely on the Occupational Health & Safety Act (Ontario) (“OHSA”) to refuse to work if they are concerned that the condition of their workplace may jeopardize their health or safety, exemptions to OHSA require certain essential employees to work notwithstanding those conditions.
In addition to the above, there are a number of other pieces of provincial and federal legislation which work together to answer some of the key questions about how to deal with a natural disaster in the workplace. Whether that disaster relates to health issues (eg. SARS, H1N1), loss of the workplace premises or something else, this combined legislation will help employers determine the appropriate response to disasters, and it is recommended that employers be proactive about understanding their obligations so that they are prepared in the event that disaster strikes.