This law firm is helping workers and businesses navigate the COVID-19 crisis

This law firm is helping workers and businesses navigate the COVID-19 crisis

Sultan Lawyers’ response to COVID-19 is just one way the employment law firm is helping Toronto’s diverse, sophisticated workforce transform the city into a globally leading economic metropolis.

The economic impact of COVID-19 is extraordinary. It has forced nearly every business to furlough at least some—if not all—of its employees, with little to no idea if or when they’ll be able to bring them back. On top of that, travel restrictions are affecting the livelihood of many businesses that depend on foreign workers.

Sultan Lawyers is uniquely positioned to help handle issues stemming from this crisis. The Toronto-based employment and workplace immigration firm prides itself on remaining ahead of the curve of Toronto’s ever-changing labour market. It offers services to assist both employees and employers, specializing in workplace immigrant issues. “We’re adaptable, and we’re smart, and we have the nimbleness of a smaller firm,” says Sharaf Sultan, Principal of Sultan Lawyers. “We like to think of ourselves as a modern firm for the future labour market—more flexible, more globally centered, and focused on growth sectors. Toronto is rapidly maturing into a global metropolis, and we are committed to supporting the economic prosperity of its diverse citizenry.”

Many employers are waiting to see what long-term effects the COVID-19 pandemic will have on their business before rehiring staff or making terminations permanent. This leaves employees wondering whether their jobs will be there for them when their workplace reopens. “We’re trying to help employers navigate by looking at potential layoffs in the interim, maximizing the government programs that are available, and possibly looking at changes to compensation that are temporary in nature but that won’t trigger a termination of employment” Sultan says.

Sharaf Sultan has a solid history of servicing the legal needs of both employees and employers, from individuals to multinational companies. His experience includes working for what was Canada’s largest labour and employment group within a national law firm, during his time at Heenan Blaikie. He also spent years consulting for the International Labour Organization on the implementation of global labour market development projects from its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. This experience allows Sultan Lawyers to present a unique proposition not only in the field of employment law, but also in the area of immigration—a sector dramatically impacted by COVID-19.Travel restrictions due to the pandemic can complicate the hiring of staff from outside the country looking to join the Canadian labour force. “There are hundreds of thousands of foreign workers doing all kinds of jobs, top to bottom,” says Sultan. “What we’re trying to do is say it doesn’t matter what your status is here, we’re trying to help you navigate the labour market issues and relocate safely. One of the least appreciated facts is how much Canada’s modern immigration system is driven by having a job.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, Sultan Lawyers has provided several online resources addressing current issues around employment law and COVID-19. “We wanted to build a library of knowledge that will hopefully stand the test of time,” says Sultan.

Sultan Lawyers offered to share answer some of their most frequently asked questions below:

What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19?
No one wants to be out of work, but employees and employers need to be partners in ensuring the health of co-workers and loved ones. Notify your employer as soon as you become aware of your condition, and keep them up to date on your condition so you can both manage any absence and negotiate your return to work.

What’s the difference between temporary layoff and termination?
“A temporary layoff gives employers the right to not pay employees, with no promise of getting their job back,” says Sultan. “Termination provides employees with the right to financial support to find another job. It’s that simple.”

Can an employer provide an employee with a supplement to their Employment Insurance benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes. The Government of Canada is letting employers register Supplemental Unemployment Plans with Service Canada. However, employers are not permitted to supplement the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Employees may earn up to $1,000 in employment income in each of their benefit periods while collecting CERB.

Can an employee refuse to return to work?
Yes, they can. All employees still have the right to work in a safe work environment, and COVID-19 hasn’t changed that. “Having said that,” says Sultan, “don’t expect carte blanche. Employees are expected to act in good faith, and ‘reasonableness’ is the measuring stick.”

Can an employee sue their employer if they contract COVID-19 at work?
Generally, no. In Ontario, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act provides employees with no-fault compensation if they are injured or contract an illness in the workplace. “But if an employer acts irresponsibly during this pandemic,” says Sultan, “they can be held accountable for the negative outcome(s).”

Can an employee request vacation during the temporary layoff period?
“Yes,” says Sultan. “Employees on layoff are still employed and can be paid their full salary for any vacation used during this period.” However, he adds, “Employers can refuse if they do not have the financial means to provide payments during this period. This is consistent with layoff as an extraordinary measure.”

Although many businesses are cautiously beginning to reopen, it’s impossible to predict what the new normal will be for many workplaces. In the meantime, Sultan Lawyers will continue providing both employers and employees with the services and information they need to navigate this unpredicted experience. “Right now, we’re doing a lot of consultations with people about what may happen,” says Sultan. “Our goal is to manage the relationship between employers and employees so hopefully it leads to a positive outcome.”

If you’re an employee or employer requiring legal advice on a workplace-related matter, visit Sultan Lawyers at