Can my employer change the nature of my work during the coronavirus pandemic?

I work as a salesperson in a department store. Business is down. My employer wants to cut my hours or rejig my job to include cleaning duties. Can I refuse?

Gerry

Gerry

Kelowna, BC

The law in BC says you can refuse to work if it presents an “undue hazard” to the health and safety of any person. An undue hazard is an “unwarranted, inappropriate, excessive, or disproportionate” risk — one that is above and beyond the potential exposure someone would face through regular, day-to-day activity. 

During the pandemic, you’re on solid ground to say you’re concerned that cleaning duties would put your health at risk. Best to discuss the situation and your concerns openly with your employer to work out a path forward. 

Otherwise, if your job hours were cut significantly (for example, from full time to just 15 hours a week), or if your employer makes a major change to your job duties, this could be considered constructive dismissal. We explain this concept here, and here in the context of the pandemic. If you were constructively dismissed, you would be entitled to severance pay from your employer.

A word of caution, though: the law of constructive dismissal is complicated. And there is risk involved in asserting constructive dismissal. Consider getting legal advice. If you don’t have access to a lawyer, there are options for free or low-cost legal help.

David Kandestin

David Kandestin

People's Law School
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in December 2021

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