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It’s unclear if employees will still be eligible for CERB if they refuse to return to work for safety reasons

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Chrystia Freeland listens to a speaker during a news conference in Ottawa, Tuesday April 7, 2020. The day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife was revealed to have COVID-19, cabinet agreed that Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland should be next in line if Trudeau were unable to perform his duties. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — As Alberta prepares to reopen its economy on May 14, there are still few answers on if employees will still be eligible for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) if they refuse to return to work due to safety concerns.

Last week, the provincial government announced details of its relaunch strategy which included the reopening of retail businesses, restaurants, cafes, lounges, and pubs if they follow strict health guidelines.

Many people are ready to get back to work but others are worried about the possibility of contracting the virus and giving it to someone who is at high risk.

On the Government of Canada website, the benefit is available to those who:

  • Have lost their job due to COVID-19
  • Are in quarantine or sick due to COVID-19
  • Are taking care of others because they are in quarantine or sick due to COVID-19; and/or
  • Are taking care of children or other dependents because their care facility is closed due to COVID-19.

The website doesn’t detail if individuals can keep collecting the benefit if they refuse to return to work for safety reasons.

“If you are concerned about the safety of your working conditions, you should discuss the situation with your employer,” the website said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was asked during a virtual sitting of parliament if the government can guarantee that every Canadian receiving CERB will not lose their benefits if they refuse to return to work that is unsafe due to COVID-19.

“No Canadian worker at any time should feel obliged to go to work in unsafe conditions,” Freeland said.

“In a time of coronavirus that is, even more, the case and the government, of course, should not penalize workers for doing the right thing and declining to go to work in unsafe conditions.”

Sarah Coderre, a managing lawyer in Calgary specializing in employment and labour law, told CityNews that under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are required to provide a safe workplace free from harmful substances including biological substances.

660NEWS has reached out to Service Canada for clarification on the eligibility but has not heard back yet.