Coping with Calgary: stories and lessons from the flood zone

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“In times of emergency where there’s lots of devastation and personal loss it’s not really about the legal responsibilities, it’s about the practical business considerations,” Miller Thomson Calgary labour and employment lawyer Kent Davidson said, emphasizing the importance of “compassionate flexibility”.

For casual employees there may not be an expectation of pay if their shift is cancelled, however if a permanent employee is told not to come to work the employer is likely to pay for that shift.

“With permanent employees who may want and be able to work, is the employer holding up his end of the bargain or could this be constructive dismissal?” Davidson said. “Most employers want to be seen as being compassionate and generous. If an employer makes a decision to keep employees at home, typically an employer will pay those wages without any overriding legal requirement to do so.”

However, in some cases the workplace is open but employees feel uncomfortable coming to work. Where an employee has been requested to come back to work and declines to return there is not the same moral imperative for the employer to pay the employee those wages, Davidson.

“They are really looking for compassionate, gratuitous leave and barring contractual provisions there is no requirement for employers to provide it.”

If they are claiming sick or stress leave an employer should assess it as they would a request at any other time, but under the circumstances may choose not to require a physician’s note. Some provinces, including Ontario, have provisions for employees to take unpaid emergency leave, however, Alberta does not have similar legislation.

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