The Premier of Quebec, Francois Legault announced a series of measures to try to counter the spread of COVID-19. Such measures change, get adjusted, and even increase in severity almost daily.

The impacts of these measures are serious for Quebec businesses and employees, in particular. Although the situation is new, sudden and major, you may rest assured that it is not entirely without precedent.

In 2010, during the H1N1 crisis, the Commission des lésions professionnelles [translated: the Professional Injury Commission] examined the case of an employee who contracted the virus during her work. The Commission rendered a decision in which it concluded that this constituted an employment injury within the definition of the « Loi sur les accidents du travail et les maladies professionnelles » [translated: the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases]. As a result, the employee was entitled to the benefits provided for in this law (Del Papa and Groupe Voyages Vision 2000 inc., 2010 QCCLP 6789).

We can’t rule out that a similar situation could happen again under the present circumstances. Furthermore, in the event of a contagion in the workplace, an employee could invoke their right to refuse to perform work if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the execution of this work exposes them to a danger to their health based on the provisions of the « Loi sur la santé et la sécurité du travail » [translated: the Act respecting occupational health and safety].

Remember that an employee who refuses to perform a job must immediately notify their immediate supervisor or their employer. In addition, certain circumstances will not allow the exercise of this right, in particular if the conditions of performance of the work are normal in the type of work performed by the employee. In addition, the employer who believes that the performance of the work does not expose the employee to a health hazard, should the situation persist, may require the intervention of an inspector who will be responsible for examining the situation and determining whether or not there is a danger justifying the employee(s)’ refusal to perform their work. In particular, the inspector will have the authority to order the employee to return to work or to prescribe whatever temporary measures are necessary.

Premier Legault recently asked people returning from any foreign country to go into voluntary isolation for a period of 14 days. The same request was made of people with flu-like symptoms.

If an employee wishes to be placed in voluntary self-quarantine, is the employer required to accept? If the employer accepts, do they have to assume the responsibility to pay the salary of the employee? Conversely, can the employer force an employee to place themselves in quarantine? The answer to these questions will vary depending on the specific circumstances of each situation.

The government has promised concrete measures to help to support businesses, although these measures, their application and their eligibility criteria have yet to be determined.

In particular to try to avoid decisions taken arbitrarily and to ensure that these decisions are taken in accordance with the law, it may be appropriate to adopt a policy regulating exceptional measures that could be taken concerning your employees to deal with this situation. We invite you to contact the Force-Légal team to draft such a policy or to answer your questions concerning labour law.