Employees should tread carefully when choosing to not follow workplace restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent case from Alberta concluded that an employee who refused to follow an employer’s mask policy at work was deemed to have resigned.
The employee was a produce specialist for Loblaws. He sought an exemption to the mask policy at work, claiming a disability prevented him from wearing masks. However, he did not actually point to any medical condition to verify his disability claim. Thus, he was placed on unpaid leave for refusing to wear either a face mask or a face shield.
The employee claimed the unpaid leave amounted to a constructive dismissal. Thus, he claimed that he was effectively terminated and entitled to severance. To successfully make out such a case, a court must conclude that an employer has unilaterally changed a material term of the employee’s job. In this case, the court concluded otherwise. The judge ruled that by imposing a mask policy at work in the circumstances of this case, Loblaws did not change the individual’s job in a material way.
Although the judge in this case determined that the employee’s refusal to comply with a mask policy was unreasonable, this should not be viewed as overarching principle that would apply to all other cases. Each case is decided on its unique facts and the nature of the workplace, and the circumstances of the parties involved. For example, had this employee been able to demonstrate a legitimate medical condition for refusing to wear a mask, it is likely that Loblaws would not have been able to place him on an unpaid leave and instead would have to accommodate him. This point alone highlights the need to get good legal advice, as the outcome may have been different.
If you are looking to enforce or protect your rights with respect to any form of workplace dispute, contact Whitten & Lublin Employment Lawyers to speak with an experienced employment lawyer, online or by phone at (416) 640-2667.
Author: Sohrab Naderi