COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions for United Nurses of Alberta members

Updated: April 12, 2022

Disclaimer: Because COVID-19 is evolving by the minute, we cannot guarantee that everything referenced on this page is up to date. We will strive to review and update daily including adding additional questions and answers.

General

1. Where can I access more information on COVID-19?

Personal Protective Equipment

Important Links:

2. What are the PPE requirements when caring for suspected, presumed, or confirmed COVID-19 cases?

  • On December 23, 2021, AHS, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), Covenant Health (CH), the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), and United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) released an updated joint statement on the safe and effective use of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The updated joint agreement sets out new minimum PPE requirements including that all clinical and non-clinical health care workers who enter a room or space, or are within two metres of a patient with suspected, presumed, or confirmed COVID-19, will wear a fit-tested N95 respirator, gown, gloves, and eye protection.
  • On January 14, 2022, the parties released a Supporting Guide for staff and leaders to provide further clarity on the intent of the specific provisions of the Joint Statement and to outline a process for issue resolution.

3. What has changed in the new Joint Statement on PPE?

The key changes in the updated Joint Statement are:

  • Requests for utilization of an N95 respirator by any health care worker shall not be denied.
  • All clinical and non-clinical health care workers who enter the room/space or are within two meters of a patient with suspected, presumed, or confirmed COVID-19 will wear a fit-tested N95 respirator, or approved equivalent protection, gown, gloves, and eye protection.
  • In settings where frequent or unexpected exposure to AGMPs is anticipated (e.g. critical care units, emergency departments), or there is a high density of COVID- 19 patients (e.g. COVID-19 unit), or there is evidence of unexplained transmission (e.g. COVID-19 outbreak), all clinical and non-clinical health care workers will wear an N95 respirator.

4. What do I if I am being denied access to PPE, including N95 respirators?

  • Simply put, PPE or N95 use should never be denied or discouraged by your Employer.
  • However, if this does occur, discuss the concern with your immediate Supervisor/Manager to try and get resolution.
  • Refer to the Supporting Guide for staff and leaders, which outlines what to do if there is a denial or lack of availability of PPE.
  • Refer to the updated Joint Statement, which explicitly states that “requests for utilization of an N95 respirator by any health care worker shall not be denied and access to a N95 respirator or approved equivalent shall be provided as soon as possible upon request. If immediate access to a health care worker’s choice of PPE is not possible for some reason, the parties agree to discuss how to expedite access. Discussions related to timely access must occur within a just culture, i.e., where all parties feel respected, safe, encouraged, and enabled to have these discussions and make these critical decisions around PPE use.”
  • If you are unable to get resolution to your concern at a Local level or if the concern is urgent, reach out to UNA’s OHS Advisor at Phone: 1-866-492-8584; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca

5. I need to be N95 fit tested, what do I do?

  • Contact a Workplace/Occupational Health and Safety Advisor with your Employer. If you are unsure how to do that – reach out to your immediate Supervisor and/or contact your Local.

  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.

COVID-19 Testing, Exposure, Return to Work, and WCB Guidance

Important Links:

6. What do I do if I am having symptoms of COVID-19? How do I get tested for COVID-19?

  • If you are experiencing symptoms (fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath, loss of sense of smell or taste, etc.), stay home and self-isolate – do not go to an ER or clinic.
  • If you need immediate medical attention, call 911 and inform them you may have COVID-19.
  • Take the online Healthcare Worker Self-Assessment tool to determine next steps and find out if you require testing.
  • This tool can be used by all front-line health care workers, regardless of their Employer.

7. What do I do if I am a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19?

8. What do I do if I think I may have contracted COVID-19 at work? Should I make a WCB claim?

  • UNA believes there should be a presumption that front line health care workers who contract COVID-19 contracted the virus while at work.
  • If you are symptomatic or have tested positive (via PCR or Rapid Antigen Test) you should also make a WCB claim, even if you are unsure whether your COVID-19 infection is work related. WCB will evaluate your claim based on specific criteria for work related exposure, cause, and risk outlined in Policy 03-01, Part II – Occupational Disease, Q4.
  • See the WCB Worker Fact Sheet for more information
  • Note that casuals are entitled to WCB since pay is based on normal hours of work, not FTE. However, it’s worth noting that Article 20 does not apply to casual employees, so the employee would be paid by WCB directly and not through the employer.
  • If you make a WCB claim and you are not approved, contact UNA (Phone 1-800-252-9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for support.

9. Can I still submit a WCB claim, even if I did not test positive via PCR testing?

  • The changes to COVID-19 testing, specifically the availability of PCR testing does not affect WCB’s adjudication of work related COVID-19 claims.
  • PCR testing, Rapid Antigen Tests, or a qualified physician’s diagnosis will be accepted as confirmation of being positive for COVID-19 and claims will continue to be adjudicated based on WCB’s Policy 03-01, Part II – Occupational Disease, Q4.
  • Furthermore, due to extraordinary circumstances, WCB also recognizes that you may not be able to easily access testing and it may not be safe to visit your doctor if you are symptomatic. As such, if you are symptomatic and believe you contracted COVID-19 at work, but you are unable to access diagnostic testing, you can begin the claim process based on your self-report of symptoms that are known indicators of COVID-19. In some situations, WCB may arrange and pay for a private PCR test if it is safe and practical to do so.
  • If you make a WCB claim and you are not approved, contact UNA (Phone 1-800-252-9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for support.

10. What do I do if I am waiting for a return call from Health Link 811 or WHS?

11. Does WHS or Public Health have to clear me to return to work? How do I know when to return to work?

  • If your potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus occurred while performing your work duties, then this exposure must be reported to AHS WHS (1-855-450-3619) or CH OHS (1-855-342-8070 or 780-342-8070). If you develop symptoms within 14 days of a work-related exposure, then this must also be reported to WHS/OHS.
  • There is no need to contact WHS/OHS prior to returning to work unless instructed to do so by WHS/OHS. Return to work decisions should be made in consultation with the following guides and in discussion with one’s manager.
  • AHS COVID-19 Return to Work Guide for Healthcare Workers
  • AHS Return to Work Decision Chart

 12. Do I qualify for the AHS Expedited Return to Work?

  • Expedited returns to work will only be considered in exceptional circumstances (i.e. to address critical staffing needs), for asymptomatic Employees who are self-isolating, and must be discussed with your leader and approved by Zone Emergency Operations Centres (ZEOC).
  • The request is initiated by a manager, and not by staff themselves, and requires a completed Return to Work Approval form, which must be approved by the ZEOC.
  • If your Manager has obtained approval for you through the expedited return to work process, we would advise that you request a copy of the approved RTW form.

13. What do I do if my Manager is asking me to return to work when I am still feeling unwell, before my recommended isolation period is over, or in a manner that contradicts my Employer’s return to work policies/directives?

  • If your Manager is asking you to return to work while you are still experiencing COVID-19 symptoms that haven’t improved or which contradict your Employer’s return to work policies/directives, please contact your Local or UNA (Phone 1-800-252-9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for support.

Long COVID

Important Links:

(New) 14. What resources are available if I am suffering from Long COVID?

  • Long COVID or post COVID is defined as a group of symptoms that last more than 12 weeks after an initial COVID-19 infection.
  • Alberta Health Services (AHS) has set up a webpage for Resources on Recovery & Rehabilitation after COVID-19.
    • The webpage includes information on support lines, screening and pathways for rehabilitation and recovery, and provincial long covid patient services.
  • AHS has also set up a Rehabilitation Advice Line for COVID-19
    • 1-833-379-0563
    • Monday to Friday – 9:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m.
    • Information for patients and providers on activities, exercises, rehabilitation, and strategies to manage activities affected by COVID-19 symptoms lasting longer than four weeks.
    • Staffed by Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists who can triage, assess, provide rehabilitation advice, and help navigate and way find services for people experiencing long COVID.
  • All Employers have EFAP programs for psychological supports.

Time Coding and Sick Leave 

15. How should my time be coded if I am required to stay home to care for a child who is required to self-isolate because of COVID-19 or because of a school or daycare closure?

  • Employees may request payment from available banks such as overtime, named holiday, vacation, personal leave or unpaid leave to cover such absences.If you have the ability to work from home, discuss this option with your Manager.

16. What if I am required to self-isolate and I don’t have time in my sick bank.

  • If you are symptomatic and self-isolating related to COVID-19 and don’t have time in your sick bank, AHS and Covenant Health have arranged with their insurance provider to waive the 14-day waiting period for STD and you do not have to provide medical documentation to claim STD benefits.
  • You will have to complete a plan member confirmation of illness form. If the absence was expected to continue beyond the initial 14-day period, medical details would be required.
    This does not apply to casual Employees.
  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.

17. What do I do if I don’t feel my time is being coded appropriately related to me being off of work because of COVID-19?

  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.

Emergency Circumstances

UNA Collective Agreements contemplates changes to regular practices in “emergency” circumstances. The most common incidents relate to canceling or rescheduling vacation, redeployment, and mandatory overtime. Generally speaking, this is a worldwide pandemic and as we have seen with various waves the critical nature of the emergency circumstance fluctuates. Regardless of the comments that follow and which are intended to provide some helpful guidance, if you believe your vacation has been cancelled unreasonably, you’ve been inappropriately redeployed, or you were unreasonably mandated for overtime, contact your Local or UNA (Phone 1-800-252-9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) to discuss your specific circumstance.

18. Can I cancel or reschedule my vacation?

  • This will need to be assessed on a case by case basis in discussion with your immediate Supervisor/Manager. Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office for questions or support. 

19. Can the Employer cancel my vacation?

  • This is a world-wide pandemic and may be a recognized critical unforeseen emergency.
  • Article 17.03(g) of the Provincial collective agreement states: “No Employee shall have vacation cancelled or rescheduled by the Employer unless it has been assessed to be a recognized critical unforeseen emergency and it can be demonstrated that a bona fide attempt was made to mobilize the appropriate, available resources to address and resolve the issues before activating these provisions. An Employee who has vacation cancelled by the Employer shall be paid 2X their Basic Rate of Pay for the Shift(s) worked during the period of vacation cancelled by the Employer. The Employer shall also reimburse all non-refundable costs related to the cancellation of the vacation.” 

20. Can the Employer mandate me to work?

  • If the employer requires an Employee to work mandatory overtime then the employees, through their union, are encouraged to question what reasonable steps the employer took to avoid a staffing situation escalating to an emergency and reducing overtime.
  • The employer has an obligation to minimize the use of mandatory overtime, and if an Employee believes that the Employer is requesting the Employee to work more than a reasonable amount of overtime, then the Employee may decline to work the additional overtime, except in an emergency, without being subject to disciplinary action.
  • No Employee shall be requested or permitted to work more than a total of 16 hours (inclusive of regular and overtime hours) in a 24-hour period beginning at the first hour the Employee reports to work.
  • Casual Employees cannot be mandated to work. Employers have attempted to do so. The general rule is that if your manager orders you to work then you must work now, grieve later.
  • The employer also has the right to mandate regular staff to work greater than their FTE. For fulltime employees, this would mean overtime. For part time employees the collective agreement says where the Employer requires a part-time Employee to work without having volunteered or agreed to do so or on the Employee’s scheduled day of rest, the Employee shall be paid 2X the applicable basic hourly rate for work performed.

21. Can the Employer redeploy me?

  • The Employer also has the right to declare that Emergency Circumstances exist. In this case, Employees from any site may be assigned to work at any site to provide assistance.  The Employer will have to reimburse Employees for all reasonable, necessary and substantiated additional accommodation and transportation costs for traveling between sites including parking if not otherwise provided. 
  • Locals should ask the Employer to notify the Local each time vacation is canceled or individuals are mandated to work.
  • See COVID-19 Redeployment information for UNA Members for more information.

22. Can the Employer order me back from a Leave, such as a Maternity Leave?

  • No, there are no collective agreement provisions that would allow the Employer to take such action, even in the event of an Emergency.

Accommodations

23. Should I avoid caring for a patient with suspected, presumed, or confirmed COVID-19, if I am pregnant, immunocompromised, or have an underlying medical condition?

Redeployment

See COVID-19 Redeployment Information for UNA Members

Vaccination

Important Links

24. What is UNA’s position on COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers?

  • UNA strongly encourages nurses, other health care workers, and the general public to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves, their families, their colleagues, and vulnerable patients/residents/clients, as well as to prevent the overextension of all our health care services, including hospital, long-term care, home care, and public health resources.
  • For more information, see the August 24, 2021 CFNU Position Statement on COVID Vaccination, which UNA endorses.

25. What is UNA’s position on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies?

  • UNA strongly encourages all members not restricted by medical conditions or religious beliefs to arrange to be fully vaccinated as quickly as possible.
  • UNA members who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or other protected grounds need to be accommodated by their Employer. UNA will represent our members to ensure this happens.
  • If you do not have a protected ground that prevents you from being vaccinated (medical condition, religion, etc.), UNA will advise and assist you if you face any adverse consequences from not being vaccinated. However, it is important to note that any legal challenge (for example, through a grievance) will be challenging and may not succeed. The law requires a balance between individual choice and patient safety, and the best evidence currently is that vaccination of health care workers is a reasonable requirement.

26. What is UNA’s position on AHS’ Immunization of Workers for COVID-19 Policy?

  • At the direction of the Government of Alberta, AHS amended their Immunization of Workers for COVID-19 Policy (which also applies to Carewest, CapitalCare, and Covenant Health employees), effective March 10, 2022. The amended policy was updated and posted on March 16, 2022.
  • The amended policy requires employees hired after November 30, 2021 to be fully immunized against COVID-19 at the time of hire. Therefore, employees hired on or before November 30, 2021 are no longer required to be fully immunized against COVID-19. 
  • The amended policy no longer includes a testing option for unimmunized workers.
  • Therefore, any employee currently on leave of absence due to their immunization status may return to work and unimmunized workers who opted into the temporary frequent testing option are no longer required provide negative rapid tests before their shifts.
  • UNA is currently reviewing the amended policy and will update members with any additional information or guidance.
  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 18002529394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support as it relates to the amended policy.

27. Will staff being immunized be compensated for their time, travel and parking?

  • On April 21, the Government of Alberta introduced job-protected paid leave to allow Albertans to access their COVID-19 vaccine. This new legislation means that all UNA members, whether full-time, part-time, or casual, can access up to three consecutive hours of paid leave (or longer if the employer deems it reasonable) to get each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • UNA members are not eligible for reimbursement of mileage and parking expenses.
  • If the Employee’s COVID-19 immunization is outside of working hours, there is no payment by the Employer.

28. If I am pregnant, can I or should I be vaccinated?

  • UNA encourages you to have a discussion with your primary care or obstetrical provider about any questions or concerns you may have regarding vaccination.
  • The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommends that pregnant individuals should be offered COVID-19 vaccines at any time during pregnancy if no contraindications exist, and has also provided additional guidance regarding COVID-19 immunization during pregnancy.
  • National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends: (i) that a complete series of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine should be offered to pregnant individuals; and (ii) that a viral vector vaccine may be offered to pregnant individuals when other COVID-19 vaccines are contraindicated or inaccessible. NACI notes that data collected through international COVID-19 immunization registries to date have not revealed any maternal or neonatal safety concerns.

29. Am I eligible for WCB if I experience an adverse reaction from receiving the vaccine?

  • According to the WCB Worker Fact Sheet on COVID-19 Vaccine Reactions“When immunization is required for the prevention of a work-related disease or infection and as a result of a reaction to this compulsory immunization a worker experiences a loss of earnings, WCB will consider the reaction and its consequences to be compensable.” 

Workload/Practices Issues

30. What do I do if I am redeployed to an unfamiliar care area or I am being asked to care for off-service patients?

31. What do I do if I feel my safety is at risk?

  • Speak up and discuss the concern with your immediate supervisor/manager in a timely manner.
  • Document the concern through MySafetyNet (for AHS Employees) or for Covenant Health call the Employer Incident/Injury Reporting Line at 780-342-8070 (Edmonton Area) or 1-855-342-8070.  You should also report on a UNA Occupational Health and Safety OHS Form or you may fill out the OHS Form electronically on the UNA app and online.
  • Contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) and ask to speak to an OHS Advisor for advice.
  • Consider your Right to Refuse dangerous work. There are certain obligations you must meet to exercise this right. UNA will support any member that chooses to exercise their right to refuse dangerous work.

32. What do I do if I feel patient safety is at risk?

  • Speak up and discuss the concern with your immediate supervisor/manager in a timely manner.
  • Document the concern through on a UNA Professional Responsibility Concern (PRC) Form. You can fill out a paper PRC Form or you may fill out the PRC Form electronically on the UNA app and online at: 
  • Contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑866‑492‑8584; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) and ask to speak to an PRC Advisor for advice.

33. Are there any legal considerations I should be aware of when nursing in a pandemic?

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