The following provides general recommendations to employers in dealing with the potential impacts of COVID-19 in the workplace. Please appreciate that information is quickly changing, and we will update as necessary however please also check with Federal or Provincial Health Agencies. Contact Hines Health Services for specific questions.
Where can employers get regular updates on COVID-19?
Alberta Health Services Is COVID-19 in Canada?
As of March 10, 2020, 93 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Canada.
|AREAS IN CANADA WITH CONFIRMED CASES|
|Province or Territory||Confirmed Cases|
While the Public Health Agency of Canada expects those numbers to increase, without sustained human-to-human transmission, most Canadian employees are not at significant risk of infection.
How dangerous is the 2019-nCoV?
As with other respiratory illnesses, infection with 2019-nCoV can cause mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever. It can be more severe for some persons and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties.
How is COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 does not travel through the air over long distance or times; however, it can spread person-to-person by larger droplets, like from a cough or sneeze, or by touching contaminated objects or surfaces, then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. With this, it is not surprising that we will see some cases related to close contacts. The goal is to continue to identify close contacts and catch new cases before they have a chance to spread.
What advice would you give your employees?
It’s important to remember that while the risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19 is higher than with influenza, you can still protect yourself and those who are vulnerable in our communities by using the same practices recommended for protecting against all respiratory illnesses:
- Wash your hands often and well
- Avoid touching your face, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
- Use elbow bumps or waves instead of handshakes to greet
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched
- Stay at home and away from others if you are feeling ill (especially postponing visits to friends or family in hospitals or long term care facilities)
- When sick, cover your cough and sneezes and then wash your hands
- Call Health Link, at 811 if you are concerned about your symptoms or believe you may be at risk.
There is currently no vaccine for this virus, so by protecting ourselves we are helping to protect others.
Do employers have to buy personal protective equipment for employees?
Employers have a duty to provide a safe work environment. If employees run the risk of becoming infected at work, the employer must provide personal protective equipment.
Can an employer restrict international travel?
As of March 3, 2020, the Government of Canada has posted travel health notices for nonessential travel to areas of China, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, Northern Italy, Singapore and South Korea due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
With these federal advisories, employers should restrict business travel to these areas. Should employees travel to these regions for personal reasons, they should be aware that their ability to return to work will be assessed upon their return to Canada.
Can an employer stop employees who travelled in an area affected by COVID-19 from returning to work?
Depending on where they have travelled and the nature of the employer’s business, an employer may assess risks in the circumstances, and could restrict an employee from immediately returning to the workplace. For example, an employer who manages a long term-care facility will have a different assessment than an employer operating a mechanic shop.
Prior to an employee returning to work, they should be asked to confirm that they have no symptoms of illness. Again, depending on the workplace and the risk associated with potential COVID-19 exposure, the employee may be asked to self-isolate even absent symptoms depending on where they have travelled.
If an employer holds an employee without symptoms out of work, is there a requirement to still compensate the employee?
This will depend on the circumstances, including where the employee has travelled from, the nature of the specific workplace, alternatives available (i.e. working from home) and any potential collective agreement requirements. While each situation will have to be assessed individually, there will be circumstances where holding an employee out of service, without pay, may be deemed reasonable.
What if an employee has COVID-19 and cannot work?
Where an employee contracts COVID-19 and is not able to work, an employer must grant any applicable legislative leave to the employee, in addition to meeting any sick leave obligations outlined in employment agreements or collective agreements.
What if employees refuse to work because they are afraid of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace?
Employers have an obligation to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of employees under occupational health and safety legislation. Where an employee has a reasonable basis to believe that there is a dangerous condition in the workplace, or that their duties present a danger to their health and safety, the employee may be able to refuse to attend work or perform certain duties.
In the event of a work refusal, the employer must respond in accordance with occupational health and safety legislation, which response will include an investigation into the concerns and, if appropriate, adopting measures to eliminate or reduce the workplace danger.
Can an employer fire an employee if they contract COVID19?
No. Employers may not terminate an employee or otherwise discriminate against an employee due to physical disability (which includes certain illnesses) under human rights legislation.
Can an employer force employees to work from home?
Whether or not an employer can direct all or a portion of its workforce to work from home will depend on the reasons for the request. For example, if there has been potential exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, it may be reasonable to request certain employee self-isolate and work from home for at least a 14 day period.