Coronavirus: Some Calgary businesses face challenges as staff wary of returning to work

As businesses reopen, employees are being asked to return to their workplaces but not all workers are feeling comfortable and it’s leading to challenges for some Calgary businesses.

“A lot of people have the emergency benefits so staff are more comfortable with getting that benefit package and staying safe rather than having to be exposed to COVID-19 in the daily workplace,” said Rebecca O’Brien, executive director with the Inglewood BRZ.

The Alberta Hospitality Association has also heard from some members that there are some workers who, because of their personal circumstances and how they feel about COVID-19, are not feeling comfortable or ready to come back yet.

“We are hearing with some individuals it is may be a bit of a challenge bringing back some staff that aren’t ready to do so.

“I suspect we will hear more of that as the reopening ramps up,” said Brett Ireland, a board member with the Alberta Hospitality Association.

Employment lawyers warn that if you don’t feel safe but there’s no real reason for it except for the general unease that many of us have, that’s a resignation.

“If you are able to go back to work, you need to go back to work. If you don’t, it’s tantamount to a resignation,” said Paula Kay, senior counsel with Sawers Barristers and Solicitors.

Kay says a few exceptions include health problems and caring for a dependent.

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She says it’s best first to talk to your employer if you don’t think the workplace is safe. If that doesn’t work, call Alberta Health to get a public health inspector to check it out.

“An employee should educate him or herself to know this is what the workplace should look like so that if it is not complying, you can talk to the business owner and let them know what you think needs to be changed.”

But what about people who are thinking of staying home because they can make as much money collecting benefits as they can working at reduced hours? Experts say that could backfire.

“If your employer calls you back and says you need to come back to work and you look at the cost/benefit and say, ‘Well, I would be making about the same amount of money on the emergency response benefit as I am going back to work, so I think I’m just going to stay home,’ and your employer submits a new Record Of Employment saying you have resigned because you have been offered your work back and you’ve decided not to do it, down the road you may very well have to pay back that benefit,” Kay said.

If you’re presumed to have abandoned or resigned from your job, you are no longer eligible to collect money from the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.

Kay recommends seeking legal advice that is specific to your situation but she cautions that workplace issues in a COVID-19 world are constantly changing.

“None of us have lived through anything like this before and as lawyers, we are updating ourselves on a daily basis trying to stay abreast of this because sometimes the answer is: ‘I’m not sure yet.’”

Hairstylist Claire Goodwin is back doing what she loves after hair salons in Alberta were forced to shut down in March. But returning to work in a pandemic environment made her nervous.

“I was just concerned about my health and the health of my clients,” Goodwin said.

But on Wednesday, after experiencing her first full day back to work on Tuesday, Goodwin said she felt relieved about her return to work at Diva Salon and Spa in Sunridge Mall in Calgary.

“I think at first I was nervous about it.

“I didn’t think I would feel like we were ready yet. But then talking to my bosses and seeing the protocols we have, I feel a lot more comfortable. They have taken really good precautions so I am comfortable,” Goodwin said.

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