COVID-19 FAQ for university sector members and other DCLs

Please note this page will be updated regularly as new information arises.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the lives of PSAC members. Those working in the university sector as well as other non-federal sectors have many questions and concerns about the rights and resources available to them during this time.

To provide some clarity, PSAC has identified the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) below. This FAQ is subject to change and some provincial particularities may arise. We will continue to add questions in response to the developing situation, so please refer back to this document to monitor any additions. As well, PSAC has created a separate document on federal and provincial measures in place to support those who are struggling financially. Finally, please refer to your PSAC regional website for other updates as the pandemic continues.

I am neither a Canadian citizen nor a permanent resident and I have just lost my job. Am I entitled to employment insurance?

The Employment Insurance (EI) program is designed to protect workers who have lost their jobs for reasons outside their control.

Employment insurance benefits are not restricted to Canadian citizens and permanent residents. Foreign workers in a job that is considered “insurable employment” in Canada pay the same EI contributions as other workers.

However, you must meet the following conditions to qualify for EI benefits:

- You lost your job through no fault of your own.

- You must have worked the minimum number of hours in insurable employment.

- You must be able and available for work at all times and be able to prove it.

To be considered “available,” you must be able to prove that you are ready to accept work. Check the conditions and limits of your work permit to make sure you are in fact allowed to accept work.

To work in Canada, you need a work permit issued by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) before you can begin or continue to work. The permit generally allows you to work until you are laid off. 

What if I have an “open” work permit?

Foreign workers with an open work permit can accept work and work for an employer of their choice during the period stated on the permit. In this case, there is no restriction on the type of job.

Holders of open work permits are considered able and available for work at all times and qualify for EI benefits for the duration of their work permit, as long as they meet the other conditions. 

What if I have an employer-specific work permit?

If you have an employer-specific work permit, you are usually not allowed to accept work with another employer. As a rule, therefore, you will not qualify for employment insurance benefits, although you can still submit an EI application and cite specific facts. 

We encourage you to submit an application because of the exceptional situation caused by the pandemic. 

What if my work permit restricts the number of hours a week I can work?

To receive employment insurance benefits, you must usually be ready to accept all hours of work available, including full-time work. In other words, having a work permit that restricts you to 20 hours a week could prevent you from accepting a full-time job.

However, we encourage you to submit an application because of the exceptional situation caused by the pandemic. 

Some exceptions may apply to workers who have family or religious obligations and/or medical restrictions that temporarily prevent you from being available for full-time work.

What if my work permit has expired?

To be allowed to stay in Canada after your work permit has expired, you must have applied for an extension before the permit expired. You can continue to receive employment insurance benefits while waiting for the new work permit.

A claimant whose work permit has expired and who did not apply for an extension before the expiry date is no longer available for work and thus is disentitled to EI benefits.

Your responsibilities

- Obtain the Record of Employment as soon as possible.

- Keep your work permit up to date and apply for an extension if applicable.

- Submit an application for employment insurance with a copy of your valid work permit and the other documentation required;

- Contact your union representative if you have a specific question so you can get advice relevant to your individual situation.

I live in a university residence. What are the rights of workers who live in residence during the pandemic?

A number of universities have asked students in residence to vacate their accommodation on the grounds that this measure is required to prevent the spread of the virus.

We are, of course, dealing with a pandemic and certain measures are required for reasons of safety and public health. However, many students don’t have the option to go home or return to their home country and/or don’t have access to alternative housing while people are confined to their homes. 

As tenants of university residences, you have the same rights as any other tenant and, in any case, you cannot be served a notice of eviction. The universities may recommend vacating the residences if possible, but leases may only be terminated voluntarily. In any case, like everyone else, you must comply with Department of Public Health instructions. 

These are your rights as tenants.

I live in a university residence and I am a student employee who is a member of the union. What is my situation?

It is illegal to evict a tenant without notice and, in our opinion, at this point, force majeure cannot be invoked to terminate the lease and proceed with eviction.

There is no support for such decision in the recommendations issued by the public health authorities; on the contrary, evicting students during a pandemic would have significant repercussions. 

We understand that the universities must implement social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the virus, but we expect them to respect the right of everyone who does not have access to an alternate safe housing option to stay in accommodation.

I live in a university residence and I am a floor fellow. What is my situation?

Many student employees don’t just work in the university residences; they live in them as well.

Floor fellows, too, have a right to stay in accommodation. Because the residence is tied to their job, the university could terminate the lease of anyone who ceases to be an employee or ceases to be a student, but that too would require one month’s notice.

Floor fellows or other residence supervisors therefore have a right to stay in accommodation and we expect the universities to respect this right.

The universities must comply with the instructions from the public health authorities and may recommend that tenants vacate the residences where possible, but they cannot compel eviction. In such case, voluntary termination of a lease must be at no cost. 

Your responsibilities

- Comply with the instructions of the university and Public Health concerning social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus;

- Read the relevant information:

- Contact your union representative if you are being forced to leave your accommodation or if you have a specific question so you can get advice relevant to your individual situation.

I have kids. What measures are available to accommodate my family obligations?

This social distancing measure, which is required to combat the pandemic, has major repercussions for workers with dependent children.

We expect employers to encourage working from home for health and safety reasons, but also to accommodate parents who have family obligations. 

If you cannot work from home because you have children at home, you may be entitled to leave periods. Refer to your collective agreement for information on the applicable leaves and contact your union representative if needed.

In addition to the rights set out in the collective agreements, your provincial labour standards may grant you specific family-related leaves. Other accommodations such as a reduction in or change to hours of work and flexible hours may also be requested. 

We cannot guarantee that such measures will be accepted, but we expect employers to demonstrate flexibility in this exceptional pandemic situation. If your employer refuses to accommodate you, contact your union to review possible remedies.

Your responsibilities

- Determine whether your situation requires accommodation measures or leave.

- Inform the employer as promptly as possible if you need to take a leave and make every effort to limit its duration where possible.

- Discuss the situation with your manager.

- Determine whether your job is on the list of essential services for which emergency childcare services are being offered.

- Contact your union representative if you have a specific question so you can get advice relevant to your individual situation.

I receive funding for my research through NSERC or SSHRC. There are deadlines coming up that I won't be able to meet. What should I do?

Both Councils have published information about how to meet deadlines. Please refer to:

NSERC program information in relation to COVID‑19

COVID-19: Impacts on SSHRC's policies and programs



March 31, 2020