HEU and COVID-19

Updated April 2, 2020


HEU and COVID-19 Information for members


COVID-19 HEU Hotline

HEU has set up a COVID-19 hotline to answer questions for HEU members related to their workplace and their employment. The line will be monitored seven days a week. Your shop steward in your workplace may know the answers to many of your questions -- or will know how to get them -- so check with them first.

Single-site Staffing

Province moves toward single-site staffing


  • www.bchealthstaffing.ca is no longer taking submissions.
  • The Provincial Health Office is asking health care workers employed at more than one site to indicate their preferences should they be restricted to a single site as part of public health efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • HEU members working at more than one site in hospitals/acute care, long-term care and assisted living, or a provincial mental health facility must indicate which of those sites they prefer to work at for the duration of a public health order for single site staffing.
  • Registration is open to employees of health authorities, contracted long-term care homes and assisted living residences, and any subcontractors including for both care and support services.
  • If HEU members have already been assigned to a single site, the union recommends that you still register your preferences. You can only register preferences for sites where you currently work (including as a casual).
  • The website www.bchealthstaffing.ca was launched by the Provincial Health Office on the evening of March 27 and flows from one of two orders issued by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on March 26.
  • The deadline for registration deadline is 5 p.m. on March 29.
  • The second Order authorizes regional medical health officers to restrict staff to a single long-term care site though workers can still have second jobs in community health or community social services.
  • Because this order impacts many workers who may depend on multiple jobs to earn a living, the union advocated for language that prohibits long-term care operators and subcontractors from terminating or penalizing staff, and provides for the continuance of benefits should staff be directed to work for another operator.
  • The order also contains a number of principles that will be considered in assigning staff should public health officials designate single staff sites.
  • The government has also committed to matching Facilities or Nurses collective agreement rates at sites impacted by single staff orders.
  • Workers can still hold an additional job(s) in community health or community social services
  • HEU and other unions have advocated for a central staffing system in an effort to protect workers’ rights and income in the face of these emergency orders during the pandemic.

Read HEU's full newsletter here.

CLASS Order with respect to health care staff DESIGNATION  (COVID-19) March 26 BRIDGING ORDER

CLASS Order health care staff DATA  (COVID-19) March 26

Safety at work

Should I use Personal Protective Equipment? -- Updated March 26 --

Are you caring for someone under investigation or confirmed with COVID-19?
Yes, you must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when providing care to someone with COVID-19.

When someone with COVID-19 speaks, coughs or sneezes they expel droplets containing the virus.  Current science suggests these droplets can travel up to 6 feet, landing on people and surfaces in the environment nearby as they settle to the ground.

The virus can spread if these droplets land in your eyes, nose or throat when you are in close contact, such as providing direct patient care. It can also spread if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.  

Watch the World Health Organization's video explaining how COVID-19 is spread.

At this time, routine care for patients under investigation or confirmed to have COVID-19 requires contact and droplet precautions to help prevent virus droplets from reaching your eyes, nose, and mouth while you work.

Contact and droplet precautions are:
-    Gloves
-    Gown
-    Mask
-    Eye and face protection

For the steps to put on and take off this PPE visit the BC CDC’s webpage.
Or download this poster: 5 steps to put on your PPE.

N95 respirators

Healthcare workers must wear an N95 respirator, instead of the regular mask, when performing or assisting with an aerosol-generating medical procedure (AGMP).

N95s are specialized masks that filter the tiny droplets from the air you breathe, preventing you from breathing in the very small droplets that may be released during an AGMP. You must pass a fit test to use an N95.

Your employer is required to inform you if you need an N95 for your work and provide you with a fit test each year.

If an AGMP is being performed – it must be communicated to staff.  For example, a sign saying “airborne precautions” may be posted at a patient’s door.

Your employer is required to implement measures to eliminate or minimize the potential for exposure to COVID-19 while you work. Personal protective equipment is only one of those measures and must be combined with others to reduce risks to you.

What about contracted (independent) care homes, their sub-contractors, and contractors in hospitals food and housekeeping?

Because of the increase in contracted services and operators in B.C. hospitals and long-term care homes, the union has told health officials that they must take steps to ensure these contractors are clearly instructed on infection control protocols and PPE requirements in response to the coronavirus threat.

The union is also working with public health officials to ensure that health care workers are treated fairly and appropriately in this crisis regardless of their employer.

COVID-19 testing for health care workers -- New information March 25 --

As a health care worker, you are ensured access to a COVID19 test if you are symptomatic.
Please check the Provincial Health Services Authority’s webpage for a list of testing sites in your health authority.

From phsa.ca:

Testing criteria
Staff must meet testing criteria, which includes:

  • Fever & cough or shortness of breath (new/worsening – not pre-existing)

OR TWO of the following symptoms:

  • Fever, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, fatigue/malaise, rhinorrhea

Less frequent symptoms associated with COVID-19 include: sore throat, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, chest pain and conjunctivitis.  Clinic staff will discuss with a designated medical microbiologist if staff requesting testing have these or other symptoms not meeting the criteria above.

If you are self-monitoring while at work or are on your days off and experiencing symptoms as described above, you may come to get your test (nasopharyngeal swab), followed by self-isolation until your test results are back.
You will receive a phone call with your results.

What should my employer do if a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in my workplace?

It is the responsibility of health employers to ensure workers are properly informed and equipped to work in settings where there’s a risk of exposure to COVID-19.

HEU expects health authorities and other health employers will provide timely, specific and clear direction to health care workers on the infection control protocols they will follow to avoid exposure to the virus.

Health employers are also expected to have sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on hand for health care workers, and provide the training to use it, including fit-testing for respirators where they are required.

Workers should always apply a precautionary approach to their work, and consult a supervisor with any questions about protocols or the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

How can I reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19? -- Updated March 26 --

You can reduce your risk of infection by doing the following:

  • Follow your work site unit or employer infection control policies. If you are unsure about what’s needed, talk to your supervisor, before doing the task you are assigned.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Minimize your contact with others through physical distancing by keeping about two metres apart.
  • Wear the required PPE.
    • Routine care tasks with patients under investigation or confirmed to have COVID19 requires contact and droplet precautions: gloves, gown, mask, eye/face protection.
    • Performing or assisting with an aerosol-generating medical procedure requires an N95 respirator instead of a mask.
    • AGMPs Requiring N95 Respirators for COVID-2019 Patients
      • Autopsies involving respiratory tissues
      • CPR with Bag valve mask ventilation
      • Bronchoscopy and bronchoalveolar lavage
      • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP)
      • Intubation and extubation procedures
      • Nasopharyngeal aspirates, washes, and scoping
      • Nebulized therapy
      • Open airway suctioning
      • Sputum Induction
  • Ask for training or a refresher on how to put on, take off, and dispose of PPE correctly.
  • If you do not have the PPE you need, stop and speak with your supervisor.
  • If your concerns are not resolved, talk to your shop steward, OHS steward or Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee member about the next steps.
  • If you think you’ve been exposed, report to your employer using their incident report process.
  • Stay home if you are experiencing the flu and common cold. This includes symptoms such as a cough, sneezing, fever, sore throat and difficulty breathing. Call 811 or use the self-assessment tool to for further direction  https://bc.thrive.health/

My rights at work

Your Workplace OH&S Rights – COVID19 PPE -- Updated March 26 --

You have a right to a safe workplace. View HEU's poster on your basic health and safety rights.

Your rights & personal protective equipment (PPE)

Right to know:

  • Your employer must provide you with training in how to correctly put on, take off, dispose of, or maintain the personal protective equipment you need for your job, to protect you from COVID19.
  • Your employer must inform you when you must use the PPE. For example, Look for signage are patient room doors.
  • Your employer must inform you of the other measures implemented to reduce the potential for exposure to COVID19.

Right to Participate

  • You have the right to ask questions about what measures are in place to protect you and to raise the concerns you have. Two ways to participate are speaking directly with your supervisor, and connecting with your JOHSC member.

Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

  • You have the right to refuse to do unsafe work, such as tasks you believe will put you or anyone else at risk of injury or work-related illness. You must follow the process.
  • While your concern is being investigated, you may be assigned to temporary alternative work at no loss of pay, until the matter is resolved.
  • You cannot be disciplined in any way for exercising your right to refuse unsafe work even if WorkSafeBC decides the work is safe.
Can my employer make me self-isolate?

The union is aware that some health employers are requiring self-isolation for workers outside the guidance from the Public Health Agency or the BC Centre for Disease Control. Please contact your shop steward or servicing representative if you find yourself in this situation.

There may be other circumstances under which health care workers will be asked not to report to work. HEU is working with government and employers to minimize the economic impact of these directives on workers.

Can I lose my job if I can’t work because of COVID-19?

On March 23, 2020, the Provincial Government passed amendments to the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”) introducing unpaid, job-protected leave for employees who are unable to work for reasons relating to COVID-19.

The amendments also include a new three-day unpaid, job-protected sick leave that will support employees on an ongoing basis when they cannot work due to illness or injury.

COVID-19 Leave

This immediate and unlimited job-protected leave allows employees affected by COVID-19 to stay home without the risk of losing their job.

This leave is available to individuals considered employees under the Employment Standards Act who are unable to work for any of the following reasons:

  • have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are following the instructions of a medical health officer or the advice of a doctor or nurse;
  • are in quarantine or self-isolation in accordance with an order of the provincial health officer, an order made under the Quarantine Act (Canada), or guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control or the Public Health Agency of Canada;
  • have been directed by their employer not to work due to concern about their exposure to others;
  • need to provide care to their minor child or a dependent adult for a reason related to COVID-19, including a school, daycare or similar facility closure; or
  • are outside of B.C. and unable to return to work due to travel or border restrictions.

This leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020, when the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in B.C. This means that for any employee that was were terminated on or after January 27, 2020, for one of the reasons set out above, their employer is required to offer them “re-employment in the same or a comparable position,” and their previous absence from work will be deemed to be a leave under the amendments to the ESA.

Under this leave, employers are entitled to ask employees for “reasonably sufficient proof” of eligibility; however, they are prohibited from asking the employee for a doctor’s note.

COVID-19 job-protected leave is tied specifically to the COVID-19 emergency and will be repealed when it is no longer needed.

Personal Illness or Injury Leave

Employees covered under the Employment Standards Act will be entitled to take up to three days of unpaid, job-protected leave per calendar year if they are unable to work due to personal illness or injury.

This leave applies to employees who have worked for their employer for at least 90 days. If requested by their employer, employees need to provide reasonable and sufficient proof that they are ill or injured and therefore entitled to the leave.

This is a permanent change to the ESA that provides British Columbians with job-protection for personal illness or injury in accordance with most other jurisdictions.

What about paid leave if I'm directed to self-isolate or I am ill with COVID-19

For members covered by the Facilities Collective Agreement (FBA) or Community Health Collective Agreement (CBA) only:

Self-Isolation as directed by public health officials

All health care workers returning from Italy, Iran and Hubei Province in China, and some health care workers from all international destinations including the U.S., are being directed to self-isolate by public health officials (Please refer to the section above: Travel and Self Isolation). Contact 811 or public health and follow the directions for self-isolation. Employees will be put on a general paid leave of absence* (i.e. not sick leave) for the duration of self-isolation. In some circumstances, where it is feasible, employees may be asked to work from home rather than being put on general paid leave.

Employees who are instructed by a qualified medical practitioner or public health official to self-isolate at home for reasons other than travel such as a potential exposure will be put on a general leave of absence for the duration of the recommended isolation. Again, in some circumstances where it is feasible, employees may be asked to work from home rather than being put on general paid leave.

*General paid leave of absence is full pay for employees for their regular schedule. Casuals who are directed to self-isolate will be compensated according to a formula. This will not affect other leave banks.

If a member is infected by COVID 19 at their worksite they should apply for sick leave, but also file a WorkSafeBC claim. All members should file a WorkSafeBC claim even if they have enough sick time credits.

Working from Home: Employers may request members who are asymptomatic and who have been instructed by a qualified medical practitioner to self-isolate at home may be able to work from home instead of being on general paid leave.

For members covered by the Community Social Services Agreement (CSSBA) Read your sector’s COVID-19 update.

For members covered by independent collective agreements with hospital support service contractors, long-term care and assisted living operators, and care and support contractors:

HEU is urging government and health employers to provide all health care workers with general paid leave and adequate sick leave so that they are not economically impacted because of their role in the health care system.

In cases where HEU is aware that members have been asked to self-isolate, they have been put on general paid leave regardless of their employer. But the union continues to demand that government establish a clear policy that extends general paid leave provisions and adequate sick leave across all health care employers.

Other supports

What income support can I access? -- New Information March 26 --

If you were laid off or lost income because of COVID-19, you may be eligible to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits, EI regular benefits, and EI compassionate care and caregiving benefits.

Canada Emergency Response Benefit

On March 25, 2020, the Federal Government announced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which will provide income support payments to workers who lost income for reasons related to COVID-19 but do not qualify for EI. The CERB is a taxable benefit that will provide $2,000 a month for up to four months. Although the Federal Government has not released the specific details relating to the eligibility criteria and application process, the CERB is expected to cover workers (including contract workers and self-employed) who:

  • have lost their job or face reduced hours as a result of COVID-19;
  • are quarantined or sick with COVID-19;
  • are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19;
  • are with children who require care or supervision due to school or daycare closures, and are unable to earn employment income; or
  • are still employed but not receiving income as a result of COVID-19.

People who are already receiving EI regular and sickness benefits should not apply to the CERB. If their EI benefits end before October 3, 2020, and they are unable to return to work due to COVID-19, they can apply for CERB once their EI benefits end.

An online application portal is expected to open on April 6, 2020. Payments under the CERB will be made within 10 days after the application has been received. The CERB will be paid every four weeks and will be available from March 15, 2020, until October 3, 2020. Information will be updated as details of the CERB is released. Click here for more information.


Employment Insurance – Sickness Benefits

Workers who are unable to work because of sickness, injury, or quarantine may be eligible to apply for EI sickness benefits, which provides for temporary income support for up to 15 weeks. If the employer offers paid sick leave or short-term disability program, workers should access those entitlements first before applying for EI sickness benefits. Workers who sustained an injury at the workplace including contracting COVID-19 should make a claim with WorkSafeBC. For workers who do not have paid sick leave or short-term disability benefits, they can apply for EI sickness benefits right away as long as they meet the eligibility criteria.

To be eligible, a worker needs to show the following:

  • they are unable to work for medical reasons;
  • their weekly earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least one week; and
  • they have accumulated 600 insured hours of work in the past 52 weeks before the start of their claim or since the start of their last claim, whichever is shorter. This is known as the “qualifying period”.

Workers who have not accumulated 600 insured hours of work in the qualifying period may be eligible for income support under the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Normally to qualify for sickness benefits, workers need to provide a medial certificate showing they are unable to work for medical reasons. In March 2020, the Federal Government announced medical certificates are no longer required from people claiming EI sickness benefits due to quarantine related to COVID-19. In addition, the one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits will be waived for new claimants who are quarantined due to COVID-19 so that they can be paid for the first week of their claim. Workers who are unable to complete their claim for EI sickness benefits due to quarantine may apply later and have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay.

Generally, workers can expect to receive 55% of their average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum of $573, but the exact amount and duration of benefits will depend on the workers’ insurable earnings and expected date of recovery.

Click here for more information about EI sickness benefits including how to apply.


Employment Insurance – Regular Benefits

Workers who have lost their job because of COVID-19 but are ready, willing and capable of work may be eligible for EI regular benefits, which provides some temporary income support while they are looking for work.

To be eligible, a worker needs to show the following:

  • they have been employed insurable employment;
  • have lost their job through no fault of their own;
  • have been without work and without pay for at least 7 consecutive days in the last 52 weeks;
  • have worked for the required number of insurable hours in the last 52 weeks or since the start of their last EI claim, whichever is shorter;
  • is ready, willing and capable of working each day; and
  • is actively looking for work (must keep a record of job search activities).

The number of insurable hours required will depend on the unemployment rate of the region in which the worker resides. For the Vancouver, Victoria and Abbotsford regions, the required insurable hours is 700. For Southern Interior BC region, the required insurable hours is 665. For Southern Coastal BC region, the required insurable hours is 630, and for Northern BC region, it is 525 hours.

Generally, workers can expect to receive 55% of their average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum of $573, but the exact amount and duration of benefits will depend on the workers’ insurable earnings.

Click here for more information about EI regular benefits including how to apply.


EI compassionate care and caregiving benefits

EI compassionate care and caregiving benefits are paid to people who have to take time off work to provide care or support to a critically ill or injured person or someone needing end-of-life care. If the critically ill person requires care because of COVID-19, workers should consider applying for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (see above) as it might be difficult to obtain a medical certificate at this time.

To qualify for EI caregiving benefits, one must demonstrate that:

  • they are a family member of the person who is critically ill or injured or needing end-of-life care, or are considered to be like a family member;
  • their regular weekly earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least one week because they needed to take time away from work to provide care or support to the person;
  • they accumulated 600 insured hours of work in the 52 weeks before the start of the claim, or since the start of their last claim, whichever is shorter;
  • a medical doctor or nurse practitioner has certified that the person

Generally, workers can expect to receive 55% of their average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum of $573, but the exact amount and duration of benefits will depend on the workers’ insurable earnings and the expected date that the critically ill or injured person will no longer require care.

Click here for more information about EI compassionate care and caregiving benefits including how to apply.

Other Available Income Support -- Updated March 26 --

As part of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, the Federal Government also announced the following measures to support people who have been impacted by COVID-19:

  • An extra $300 per child through the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) will be provided. The benefit will be delivered as part of the scheduled CCB payment in May.


  • One-time special payment by early May through the GST/HST credit for low- and modest-income families. The average additional benefit will be close to $400 for a single individual and $600 for couples.


  • Increasing flexibility for mortgage lenders to allow them to defer mortgage payments for up to six months.


The B.C. Government also announced the following measures to support people who have been impacted by COVID-19:

  • B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers, which will provide a one-time tax-free payment of $1,000 to British Columbians who are receiving EI or the new federal emergency benefit because of COVID-19. Applications will be available in April 2020 and the one-time payment will be made in May 2020.


  • One-time enhancement to the Climate Action Tax Credit, which will be paid in July 2020 to moderate to low-income families. An adult will receive up to $218.00 (increased from $43.50) and a child will receive $64.00 (increased from $12.75).


  • Starting March 30, 2020, B.C. student loan payments are automatically frozen for six months.


  • Temporary rent supplement that will provide household up to $500 per month towards their rent, paid directly to landlords.


  • Halting the enforcement of existing eviction notices issued by the Residential Tenancy Branch, except in extreme cases where there are safety concerns.


  • As of April 1, 2020, freezing new annual rent increase during the state of emergency.


  • Allowing deferral of BC Hydro bill payments with no penalty. People who experienced job loss, illness or lost wages because of COVID-19 can access up to $600 to pay their hydro bills through the Customer Crisis Fund.


  • Allowing for deferral of ICBC payments for up to 90 days with no penalty.
What if my employer requires a sick note?

Employers have been strongly advised NOT to require sick notes during the COVID-19 outbreak. If your employer asks you for one, the BC Family Doctors have put out a letter that you can use.

Resources for workers during COVID19

The BC Federation of Labour has compiled a list of resources for workers.

Community Savings has created a special interest-free Line of Credit for working people facing financial difficulty during this crisis.

What child care options do I have? -- Updated March 31 --

Child care options for essential workers with young children (not school-aged)

  • The B.C. government launched a new temporary process to match parents, who are essential service workers and have children up to age five, with child care in their communities.
  • Essential service workers will be connected to child care spaces by Child Care Resource Referral (CCRR) centres that have been created in 38 communities across B.C.
  • Child care spaces are prioritized for parents working in health care services and social services.
  • Forms to identify the need for urgent child care must be submitted accessed at 1-888-338-6622 and selecting Option 4 or by visiting the Ministry of Children and Family Development's child care response webpage.

Childcare options for essential workers school-aged children

  • Parents of school-aged children are asked to contact their school principal to arrange care.

Find more information on the Ministry of Children and Family Development website.

Mental Health Resources -- New info April 2 --

BCPA COVID-19 Psychological Support Service

The Psychological Support Service offers psychological first aid telephone calls, free of charge, to any health care or other essential worker (19+) affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To access this service visit: www.psychologists.bc.ca/covid-19-resources

310 Mental Health Support

Provides emotional support, information and resources specific to mental health.

310-6789 (no area code needed)

KUU-US Crisis Response Service

Provides 24/7 culturally-aware crisis support to Indigenous people in B.C.

Call 1-800-588-8717 or visit: www.kuu-uscrisisline.ca

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Tips for taking care of your emotional health.

COVID-19 hotline
Open 24 hours, 7 days a week
In English only

Toll-Free: 1-800-232-4636

TTY: 888-232-6348

Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre

Provides confidential, non-judgmental, free emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including thoughts of suicide.

Toll-Free: 1-866-661-3311

TTY:  1-866-872-0113

Senior’s Distress: 604-872-1234

1-800-SUICIDE:  1-800-784-2433


Updates and information

Community Social Services member updates

As information for Community Social Services (CSS) members becomes available it will be posted on the CSS page.

Important sources of information on COVID-19

BC Centre for Disease Control General Information on COVID-19

BC Centre for Disease Control Information for health workers on COVID-19 including: new developments; testing and laboratory guidance; and infection control including guidance on PPE

Public Health Agency of Canada advice for health workers

Public Health Agency of Canada travel advice (see the section for Returning Travellers)

BC Government - Pandemic Preparedness

What are the symptoms of COVID-19, and what do I do if I suspect symptoms in myself or others?

This online tool can help determine whether you may need further assessment or testing for COVID-19.

Symptoms of the COVID-19 have included fever, cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing. These symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure. If you have traveled to high-risk areas and develop symptoms of COVID-19 infection, avoid contact with others and contact your doctor or call a health care facility that you are planning to visit with the following information:

  • your symptoms
  • where you have been travelling or living
  • if you had direct contact with animals (for example, at a live animal market)
  • if you had close contact with a sick person, especially if they had a fever, cough or difficulty breathing
HEU events and workshops -- Updated March 25 --

HEU is taking other steps to combat the spread of the COVID-19, including suspending all in-person union education and events until at least June 1. Joint meetings between the union and employers will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. HEU Locals have also been advised to postpone Local meetings and to cancel or postpone other union events.

If you have registered already for an event or workshop, you will be contacted by the HEU Education Department.

Other health and safety resources

BC CDC & Office of the Provincial Health Officer

Infection Prevention and Control for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19): Interim guidance for Long-term Care and Assisted Living Facilities

Fraser Health

Viral Respiratory Illness outbreak protocol and toolkit

Providence Health

COVID-19 Outbreak Information

Vancouver Coastal Health
COVID-19 and Emerging Respiratory Viruses

Long-term Care Toolkit