Know Your Rights: COVID-19 Disruption

We understand members have many questions regarding York’s response to COVID-19 and their rights and obligations as employees. York does not have clear answers for many of our members’ questions and the situation is evolving rapidly. We wanted to remind members of some of their rights as workers.

Workplace Health and Safety

COVID-19 is a workplace health and safety issue. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, York has a proactive responsibility to ensure a safe work environment and that includes safety from infectious disease. York’s recent cancellation of in-person classes addresses some of this responsibility. 

Some of our members may still be required to work on campus because of the nature of their work. If you are concerned about your risk of exposure, especially if you are in a high risk group, please see the sections below on sick days, leaves and accommodations, and contact a union representative if you need support. 

If a case of COVID-19 appears at York and York does not deal with prescribed safety measures (PPE, separation, etc), or if York is already aware of a case and forces members to work in an area with a person known to be infected, then members would have the right to refuse unsafe work. Unfortunately, you can’t refuse based on the possibility of a case occurring. If you need to refuse unsafe work please contact the union immediately so we support you. 

Exposure to COVID-19 in the Workplace

There is the  possibility that members were exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace before the cancellation of classes, and that members who must still come to campus will be exposed in the workplace. 

Medical service providers, and some others are required to report COVID-19 under Ontario’s public health legislation. It is not clear if York would be notified immediately if a student or other community member tests positive. We would consider it a violation of York’s duty to provide a safe work environment if York failed to alert our members to a potential COVID exposure once they were made aware.  

If you have been contacted by a public health authority or York about a potential exposure while on the job please contact the union executive or staff immediately. We will be available to provide you with advice and support. Workplace exposure to COVID may be considered a workplace injury and be reportable to WSIB.

Contracts – Pay, Overwork and Contract End Dates

Unit 1s (other than ticketed course directorships) can refuse work above their original contract hours and if work is performed it must be compensated. If you have been asked to do work that would put you over your assigned hours you should let your Course Director/Supervisor know that you will go over hours. We recommend you not perform the work until a written guarantee of additional payment is made. You cannot be disciplined for refusing the over-work. You may want to contact an Executive or Staff member for support. 

Many of our members do not have an assigned number of hours. This makes the argument of “over-work” more difficult. It is our contention that York cannot ask for a significant increase in workload from our members without appropriate compensation. If you feel you’ve been asked to perform work that would significantly increase your workload please contact a union representative. 

York clarified on March 16th that Unit 1 and 2 members with contract end dates of April 30th would be paid out in full, as normal. They also confirmed that any work after April 30th would be compensated. 

Members should track all of their hours and especially keep track of all hours worked after April 30, 2020. The Union will, if necessary, file grievances on behalf of its members.

Sick days

You are entitled to sick days even if you are working remotely. You are not expected to complete any work, including grading or online tutorials/lectures when sick. 

York has said they will not require sick notes for absences under 15 days. York has historically not asked for documentation when members have taken sick days and this is in-line with past practices. Members should not hesitate to take a sick day if they are feeling unwell for any reason. 


Members are entitled to medical and other paid leaves. Medical leave, and some others, require documentation. Please see our Leaves page for more information. An Exec or Staff member can help you with this process. Members should not feel forced to take a leave when their needs can be met through the use of sick days or the accommodations process. 


You can find more information about workplace accommodations on our Equity page. Members with disabilities and/or child or elder care responsibilities may be able to access the workplace accommodations process. Members who already have a workplace accommodation plan may find it needs updating to account for the change in course expectations. We recommend having union representation throughout this process. 

If You are Ill or Have Been Exposed to COVID-19

Keeping with their duty to provide a safe workplace, York may put measures into place to screen workers for infection. Human rights legislation places restrictions on an employer’s ability to require medical examinations or health testing but some non-invasive tests or screening provisions may be acceptable. At the moment we are not aware of York planning to screen workers, if you have been asked to take a medical test by the employer please contact the union. 

York has noted that all ill workers are expected to stay home and follow government advice regarding self isolation. If you have tested positive for COVID, York has the right to refuse you access to the workplace. Health authorities are recommending removal until you are free of the virus. All employees who may have been exposed to an infected individual should also be removed from the workplace for at least a 14-day period. 

If you have been told by York that you cannot access campus due to infection or exposure and are concerned about your remaining contract/pay please contact a union representative. 

Members should not be considering EI if told to quarantine unless you have already exhausted the 6 weeks of paid sick leave. If you access leaves for quarantine you would not be required to complete work to finish your contract- when you’re on sick leave you are not required to “make up” the time.