Can an Employer Terminate an Employee for Travelling During COVID-19?

Despite the Canadian government advising citizens to postpone or cancel non-essential travel during a global pandemic, many Canadians have gone ahead with their trips as planned.

On February 21, 2021, new travel-related quarantine restrictions came into force. The new rules aim to check the spread of COVID-19 and offset the amount of international travel.

What are the new quarantine restrictions related to travel?

Under the new rules, travellers flying into Canada are required to:

  • Reserve a government-authorized hotel for 3 nights prior to departure to Canada
  • Take a COVID-19 test upon arrival in Canada
  • Stay in a government-authorized hotel while awaiting the results of the test
  • Pay for the cost of the hotel stay, as well as all associated costs such as food, security, and transportation

Travellers must then complete the rest of the mandatory 14-day quarantine when they leave the hotel.

While these restrictions will affect travellers financially, they may also affect their employment. Many employers are considering the impact non-essential travel will have on their workforce.

Can an employer terminate an employee for travelling during COVID-19?

Employers have the right to terminate their employees, without cause, for any reason so long as that reason is not discriminatory.

Employers do not need a specific reason to terminate an employee. They can do so if they are willing to provide them with notice, or pay in-lieu of notice, of termination.

What about terminating an employee with cause?

The threshold for terminating an employee with cause is quite different. If the employer never explicitly tells the travelling employee s/he cannot travel, then the employee does not break any rules. Such a situation will generally not meet the requirements for just cause.

But if the travelling employee is a high-ranking individual with a fiduciary duty to the company, there may be grounds for termination with cause.

The public embarrassment brought on by the employee’s actions could provide the employer with just cause for termination. The employee could be fired to remedy the company’s public image.

So, what is the best course of action to take?

In such uncertain and everchanging times, the rules that govern employment relationships in Canada are constantly evolving. There is no way to tell if the personal choice to travel will affect an employee in their work life. It is best to avoid the risk altogether.

When considering the costly new travel restrictions and possible risk of job loss, there’s no better time to stay home.

Need help with staff management during the pandemic?

Our experts can help you with any HR, health and safety, or employment advice you may need. See how we have helped other small businesses be compliant with provincial legislation.

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