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Accommodations - general

At times, employees may not be able to fulfill their work obligations. In these instances, employees at the University of Waterloo may consider the 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.

Accommodations due to illness, injury or disability

The Disability Accommodation Guidelines document (pdf) is a useful resource that outlines the process for employees to seek workplace accommodations. Where an employee requires an accommodation, Occupational Health will verify that a medical restriction or limitation exists and then works with the department to implement a reasonable solution. In some cases, the most appropriate accommodation solution will be a sick leave absence if the implementation of an at work accommodation cannot enable the employee to fulfill their essential duties. 

Other accommodations

The shift to remote working requires us to balance both personal and work responsibilities. Individuals may face additional challenges whether this is due to a change in work location, maintaining isolation, vulnerable population* (whether personal or those of an immediate family member) or managing multiple responsibilities such as balancing dependent care with conflicting priorities.

*Vulnerable populations may include: 

  • Older adults
  • People at risk, due to underlying medical conditions (e.g. heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, cancer)
  • People at risk, due to a compromised immune system from a medical condition or treatment (e.g. chemotherapy)

When we compound these challenges with the direction to exercise physical distancing, the impact to an employee’s well-being can be significant. Regardless of an employee’s work location, they are encouraged to connect with their supervisor to tailor a work plan that meets their needs while enabling them to fulfill work commitments. 

Similarly, graduate students, teaching assistants and postdoctoral fellows (termed ‘graduate students’) may have reservations returning to campus. We encourage graduate students and their supervisors to engage in conversation about what a safe return to campus means. In the event a resolution cannot be reached, graduate students are asked to contact their Associate Dean Graduate Studies for assistance in resolving the disagreement. As required, disagreements can be further escalated through the Associate Deans to the Safety Office for support in the facilitation of conversations.

School closures and child care

Employees returning to campus who have children requiring care should attempt to find alternate care, or consider a continued work from home arrangement, if possible. Children should not accompany employees in the workplace as an alternate to finding care.

Alternatively, employees may wish to consider other leaves available in addition to those offered through the Employment Standards Act. Specifically, unpaid leaves may be requested if an employee’s 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.

Sick leave

Employees who are eligible for sick leave will continue to receive their salary if they are unwell and unable to work. Eligibility and the sick leave process remain the same.   Eligible employees can initiate sick day request directly in Workday for absences less than 5 days. For absences greater than 5 consecutive days, please refer to the Disability Management Guide.

Extended health benefits

Out of country emergency medical coverage (including personal travel)

Per the Government of Canada, individuals are to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice. In the event you are travelling, 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.

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: In person counselling is currently suspended; counselling will continue to be available via phone or online. Please contact Homewood Health for further information.

Employment insurance

In the absence of sick leave eligibility, or where sick days 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. 

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.

New: COVID-19 infectious disease emergency leave

Per the Government of Ontario “The government has made a new regulation under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA). Under this new regulation, a non-unionized employee whose employer has temporarily reduced or eliminated their hours of work because of COVID-19 is deemed to be on a job-protected Infectious Disease Emergency Leave.” For more information regarding this leave please consult the Government of Ontario website. Please note this temporary rule will expire January 2, 2021.


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

Unsafe work refusal - Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA)

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.

Graduate students who are not employees i.e. receiving a scholarship, must report health and safety concerns to their supervisor. If a resolution is not reached, graduate students may engage the Associate Deans Graduate Studies.

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.

Workplace Safety Insurance Act (WSIB) coverage

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. Supervisors 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.