Absenteeism/Inability to work

Communicating absences/inability to work

Effective March 16, people in roles that leaders deem are not critical to the ongoing and safe operation of our campus are expected to work from home until further notice.

Although absenteeism would not apply to this group of employees, there could be an inability to perform some of the regular responsibilities as a result of the pandemic. Managers are expected to maintain close contact with these employees.

Employees in roles that leaders deem are critical to the ongoing and safe operation of our campus are expected to report to work as usual. For these employees, absenteeism related to the pandemic could arise in various scenarios. Each of these will be addressed with procedure and reporting instructions.

Three broad scenarios include:

  1. The employee has contracted the virus or has been in contact with someone who has the virus
  2. The employee has dependents requiring care due to the pandemic (illness, school closures, etc.)
  3. The employee feels anxious regarding the risk and does not attend work.
Scenario or recommendation Obtain medical advice Come to work (self-monitor) Work from home/stay at home (self-isolate) On sick leave
Employee test positive to COVID-19 Applies Does not apply Does not apply Applies
Dependent/close contact diagnosed with COVID-19 Applies Does not apply Applies Does not apply
Recent proximity to individual diagnosed with COVID-19 (i.e. same flighty) Does not apply Applies (critical functions only) Applies Does not apply
Employee has recently returned from travel outside Canada Does not apply Does not apply Applies Does not apply

Work from home

The University has a Work From Home program, however in the case of disrupted business operations and the current pandemic situation, arrangements should be both flexible and appropriate. The following considerations should be taken into account when approving work from home arrangements for employees in roles that leaders deem are not critical to the ongoing and safe operation of our campus:

  • Identify how these critical operations will be impacted by having fewer staff onsite.

  • While the University remains open, department heads are encouraged to maintain flexibility in managing work from home needs.

  • Balancing the needs of employees during this time with operational requirements

  • Providing the technical assistance needed in preparing to work from home. Information is available on the IST website.

Please consult the Reporting section of this toolkit for additional reporting information.

Workplace accommodations

The University of Waterloo’s commitment to accommodations can be found online here. All accommodations will be considered based on recommendations from Occupational Health. More flexibility may be required during this time.

School/daycare closures and children in the workplace

In the event of a school or daycare closure as a result of the pandemic, employees who have children requiring care should attempt to find alternate care or consider a work from home arrangement, if possible. Children should not accompany employees in the workplace as an alternate to finding care.

This absence could initially be considered Emergency Leave as per the guideline.

Salary continuance including statutory leaves as defined under the Employment Standards Act (ESA)

Employees who are eligible for sick leave will continue to receive their salary if they are unwell and unable to work. While eligibility and the sick leave process remains the same, initial documentation requirements have been relaxed and a doctor’s note is not currently required. Medical documentation will be required for extended illness-related absences. Employees who experience any symptoms of COVID-19 or Influenza-Like-Illness (ILI), should follow Public Health guidelines. Please contact your primary health care provider or if you do not have one, call Telehealth for instructions. If you are unable to access either, please complete the online self-assessment tool. If directed to self-isolate, advise Occupational Health at occupationalhealth@uwaterloo.ca of your first date absent, related symptoms, and if unable to work from home, the expected return to work date.

There may be employees who will potentially be subject to self-isolation but who are not themselves ill. The University of Waterloo's sick leave benefit does not provide for such coverage. However, the University will be continuing salary on a gratuitous basis. Further, where employees are required to self-isolate or are still contagious but able to work, they could be permitted to work from home, where operationally feasible.

The following refers to different employee types:

  • Regular Staff (unionized and non-unionized) and Faculty – Sick leave benefits provide salary continuance in the event that an employee is unable to perform their regular responsibilities (either on campus or remotely). Salary continuance applies during self-isolation without symptoms and where feasible, these employees are expected to work from home.

  • Temporary Staff – 6 sick days per year. Sick days may be extended if ill due to COVID-19, requiring isolation etc.

  • Student Staff – Monthly paid employees would continue to be paid during an absence related to COVID-19.

  • Casual Staff – Will be paid for hours worked that are submitted and approved for payment in Workday. There may be a need to review needs on a case by case basis.

  • Non-Faculty (category includes postdoctoral fellows, research associates, and visiting scholars) – If eligible for the sick leave benefit, they would be provided with salary continuance in the event that they are unable to perform their regular responsibilities (either on campus or remotely). Salary continuance applies during self-isolation without symptoms and where feasible, these employees are expected to work from home.

Extended health benefits

Out of country emergency medical coverage (including personal travel)

Our extended health benefit through Canada Life (formerly Great-West Life) provides coverage for eligible employees (and their eligible spouse and/or dependent children) in the event of a medical emergency outside of Canada. Employees should always travel with their benefits card and in the event of a medical emergency, contact the appropriate number for assistance with the process involved with coverage and claiming. Please keep in mind that coverage is only for medical emergencies experienced by the member defined as a sudden, unexpected illness or injury or an acute episode requiring immediate medical attention.

As of March 13, 2020, coverage is not restricted by Canada Life with respect to travel to any country (even if the government imposed a travel restriction to a specific country, out-of-country coverage still applies).

Employee and Family Assistance Program

Our Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) through Homewood Health provides eligible employees (and their eligible spouse and/or dependent children) with private and confidential support on a 365/24/7 basis both in Canada and internationally. Individuals can access the support through phone (1-800-663-1182 in Canada) or through Homeweb.ca. Further details of the program and contact information are available on the HR Website under Employee and Family Assistance Program. Please note: Effective March 16, 2020 in person counselling is suspended; counselling will continue to be available via phone or online. Please contact Homewood Health for further information.

Employment insurance

In the absence of salary continuance or sick days/leave benefits, or where benefits are exhausted (temporary staff), employees may be entitled to sickness benefits under the Employment Insurance Act (Act). Under the Act, employees who face a reduction in “normal weekly earnings” of at least 40 per cent because of illness, injury, or quarantine are eligible for EI sickness benefits, provided they have accumulated sufficient insurable hours. The federal government has waived the one-week EI waiting period due to the pandemic.

Leave of absence

Employees at the University of Waterloo may consider other leaves available in addition to those offered through the Employment Standards Act. Specifically, unpaid leaves may be requested if an employee needs to be away from work for a period of time for personal reasons, related to the COVID-19 virus. Please see list of available leaves for consideration.


During times of staff shortages, there may be a requirement or request for staff to work additional hours to cover duties of those absent due to COVID-19. All manager pre-approved overtime hours should be entered into Workday and will be paid according to University Policy 16.

Occupational Health and Safety Act – work refusals

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), most employees have the right to refuse work if a condition of the workplace “is likely to endanger” their health or safety. Employees encountering COVID-19 in the workplace (or who fear that they may encounter it) may seek to exercise their right to refuse work in this regard.

The OHSA outlines a specific work refusal procedure that must be followed. Employers cannot threaten to discipline an employee exercising a work refusal. When faced with a work refusal, the employer should immediately investigate in the presence of a health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee member, consider this right to refuse work, and, failing resolution with the employee, notify a Ministry of Labour Inspector. Failure to comply with the OHSA may result in fines.

It is important to note that, under the OHSA, certain employees are exempted from the right to refuse work. These include employees whose work is inherently dangerous or circumstances where a work refusal would endanger another’s life, health or safety. Some examples include police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, paramedics and hospital workers. The application of this exception is complex, and each potential work refusal situation would need to be carefully assessed.

In the event an employee refuses to work, the manager should notify the Safety Office and they will coordinate the process.

Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIB)

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 provides compensation for “personal injury or illness arising out of and in the course of employment” and provides compensation where “a worker suffers from and is impaired by an occupational disease that occurs due to the nature of one or more employments in which the worker was engaged.” Therefore, workers infected with COVID-19 in the course of employment may be entitled to services and benefits. These types of claims were made by healthcare workers during the 2003 outbreak of SARS.

Human Rights (discrimination)

The Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) provides that everyone has a right to equal treatment in employment. The definition of disability in section 10 of the Code includes any degree of physical disability or infirmity. The Code also requires that accommodation be provided to a disabled employee.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has generally held that a cold or the ordinary flu is not considered to be a disability for the purposes of the Code. However, if a pandemic occurs, being infected with

COVID-19 may amount to a disability under the Code. Managers must therefore keep in mind human rights considerations in their responses and contingency plans. For example, human rights considerations may arise where an employer requires an employee who recently visited high risk areas to remain off work. In such instances, the University of Waterloo is not operating in contravention with the human rights code as the 14-day isolation period (following travel) is in compliance with federal and provincial directives.