Preventing COVID-19 in the Workplace

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The Ontario Government is expected to start opening some of the workplaces slowly and closely monitor the spread of COVID-19. This lecture explains some of the preventive measures employers and employees should take when returning to work.

Additional Resources:

This lecture is taught by Amer Mushtaq, LL.B., M. Engineering , B.Sc. (Hons.), who is the Principal and Founder of Formative LLP.   Through his YouTube channel, YouCounsel, Amer shares practical advice from his years of legal experience to help anyone access justice and achieve their goals.  Subscribe today to learn more.


Show Notes:


Lecture Slides:

Welcome to YouCounsel.

The Ontario government is expecting to open workplaces slowly. It seems to be a very guarded approach. Some of the workplaces will be allowed to open and then monitored carefully to see whether the spread of Covid-19 is effectively being prevented. When these workplaces open, what are some of the precautions that the employers and the employees need to take?  That is the topic of today’s discussion. We will cover some of the important aspects of prevention—but each workplace must consider its own circumstances and implement these safeguards accordingly.

We begin with our usual disclaimer that this lecture is not legal advice.  If you have any specific questions you should contact a lawyer or the Ministry of Labor or Public Health for further information.

We’ll talk about five aspects of prevention

  • We’ll talk about employee risk assessment that the employers should do prior to employees returning to work.
  • We’ll talk about social distancing at workplace. How to manage that?
  • How should an employer report illness or how should employees report their illness related to Covid-19?   
  • Tracking employee’s activities in the workplace; and
  • What happens about sharing facilities and tools in workplace? What are some of the policies that employers and employees should consider?

With respect to employee risk assessment, the first thing that the employers should do is to have an assessment of employees—individual employees, potential exposure or exposure to Covid-19.  This needs to be done for each specific employee separately. One of the things to consider is, what are the risks to the employee himself or herself? Based upon the employee’s health circumstances some employees may be potentially more at risk for Covid-19 exposure and then their circumstances may be different so that needs to be considered.  What about risks to others. Based upon an employee’s personal health circumstances, could they pose a risk to other employees?  That needs to be considered in deciding when and how the employees will return to work. Also, the employee’s family circumstances may need to be considered as well. If an employee is living with elderly parents (who have a higher risk for Covid-19 if they’re exposed).  Or, if they’re living with young children – that needs to be considered.

Also the travel history of the employee and other family members needs to be considered. For example, some employees may have spouses who frequently travel because of the nature of their work.  They may be in essential services and they may have higher risk exposure to Covid-19.  That needs to be considered before a particular employee is scheduled to return to work.

With respect to social distancing, the approach is the same as we have been using in our social distancing outside of the workplace.  But, for employment circumstances, some of the things that employers should consider is staggered work hours of employees—make sure that not all employees are attending work at the same time, stagger their shifts; stagger their breaks in such a way that employees are not gathering in common areas at the same time.

Most importantly employers must manage traffic control within the workplace.  The regulation of pedestrian traffic needs to be managed.  One of the ways to do that is to have sort of traffic signs posted in the workplace directing employees in such a way that they are potentially not close to each other at the workplace.

With respect to reporting illness: any employee who shows any symptoms of cold or flu, they must be sent home—because the symptoms of Covid-19 as we know are similar to cold and flu—until proven otherwise.  If an employee is exhibiting symptoms of cold and flu they must be sent home. The employee should be asked to take online self-assessment. I have provided the link here.  Or, the employee can contact telehealth or contact their primary health care provider for example a family physician. If an employee has tested positive for Covid-19, then employer has an obligation to report that within four days in writing to the Ministry of Labor.

Tracking employees activities: This is important.  Employers must maintain records of employees shifts and location of work, so that if an employee, for example, has tested positive for Covid-19, then the employer is readily able to determine what other employees may have been exposed to that employee and may have a potential exposure issue. Public Health will ask for that information from the employer and the employer is required to provide that information.

Finally, employees may be sharing facilities or tools depending upon the workplace.  The employers need to have sanitization policies and procedures. If the tools are being shared, employer needs to make sure that there sanitization equipment is available to sanitize the equipment, before the other employee is using it.  Similarly, if bathroom and other facilities are being shared then there must be sanitization policies and procedures about how the employees can use those facilities.

All of these policies about social distancing about trafficking, about how employees will return to work these policies need to be posted in the workplace, so employees can review those and access those easily. As I mentioned earlier different workplaces, may have different requirements with respect to how these prevention policies will apply to their circumstances. What may apply to a construction environment, may be different; the requirements of a place where food is being handled or held like rural grocery stores or restaurants, etc., the application of these prevention policies may be different. Government has provided additional resources, I have provided a link here, you can check that link and you can find further information.

Whether you’re an employer or an employee please make sure that you follow all these prevention protocols and stay safe and healthy.

Thank-you for watching.

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