Managing COVID-19 in the Workplace: Guidance for Employers, Owners, and Operators
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Summary and Overview
The Managing COVID-19 in the Workplace: Guidance for Employers, Owners, and Operators provides guidance for businesses and workplaces to appropriately manage employees who have either tested positive for COVID-19, been identified as a close contact of a confirmed positive case of COVID-19, or experiencing symptoms without any known exposure to COVID-19.
This document also provides current best practices related to the prevention and management of COVID-19 in the workplace, and should supplement health and safety processes that organizations should already have in place related to the pandemic. Some key areas of focus in the workplace include:
Some key areas of focus in the workplace include:
- COVID-19 Safety Plan and Screening Requirements
- Contact Tracing in the Workplace
- COVID-19 Cases and Outbreaks in the Workplace
- Guidance for Reporting Workplace Outbreaks to the WECHU
- Roles and Responsibilities in a Workplace Outbreak Investigation
- Case and Contact Management for a Workplace Outbreak
- Return to Work Decision-Making and Guidance
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Considered a Contact (or Higher Risk Contact)
- What is Considered a Lower Risk Contact
- Supportive Resources to Prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace
Please note that acute care, long-term care and retirement homes, in addition to other workplace settings (e.g., hospitals, clinics, schools), may have their own guidance documents. The information in this document does not take the place of any legal advice or regulations put in place by any governing body or legislation.
COVID-19 Safety Plan and Screening Requirements
All businesses and workplaces are required to prepare a COVID-19 Safety Plan and make it visible and available upon request. Visit WECHU’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan Requirements webpage to download templates and customize a safety plan for your workplace.
Workers (e.g., staff, volunteers, suppliers, contractors, essential visitors) must complete COVID-19 screening before or when they enter the workplace at the beginning of their day or shift. For clients and customers visiting a workplace in-person, owners and operators must ask that they complete a COVID-19 screening process before entering your workplace or business.
The Government of Ontario has created screening tools for workers and customers. Screening questions may be completed on paper, online or by asking staff directly, and are available below:
- Screening for Workers: Online | Download/Print
- COVID-19 Signage Questions for Businesses and Organizations: Download/Print
- Screening tool for Customers or Patrons: Online | Download/Print
Contact Tracing in the Workplace
Due to confidentiality concerns, the health unit does not contact workplaces to discuss individual cases (e.g., positives, negatives, and/or pending), unless necessary as part of the case investigation and contract tracing process.
When a positive case is identified, the WECHU conducts an investigation by contacting each confirmed positive case of COVID-19 to determine how the individual may have become infected. This process includes reviewing all individuals and places the person came into contact with, 14 days prior to developing symptoms or from their test date.
The WECHU will also work with the individual who tested positive to determine who they were in close contact with during their infectious period.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION #1
- A person with COVID-19 is contagious from 48 hours before symptoms start until the end of their self-isolation period, usually 10 days after the symptoms began.
- If someone tested positive for COVID-19 but did not have symptoms, they are considered to be contagious from 48 hours before the test to 10 days after the test.
COVID-19 Cases and Outbreaks in the Workplace
IMPORTANT INFORMATION #2
The ‘Reporting Workplace Outbreaks to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit: Guidance for Employers, Business Owners, & Operators’ provides information for employers to understand their roles in a suspected workplace outbreak, their responsibility to notify the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) about COVID-19 cases in the workplace, and how workplace outbreak information will be disclosed to the public.
Employers with any questions related to a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace may contact the WECHU by calling 519-258-2146, pressing 0 to reach our phone directory, and then pressing 0 again to reach the COVID Hotline. You can notify us of the situation and an outbreak investigation may be initiated based on the information provided. If the call is unanswered, please leave a voicemail and your call will be returned as soon as possible.
Outbreak investigations may also be initiated through other methods, such as:
- Epidemiological identification of a case or multiple cases associated with a workplace
- Employee complaints of illness at a workplace directly to the WECHU
- A request for assistance from an employer
- Information received through the MLTSD, such as a referral from a workplace complaint
- Notification through other ministries, provincial, or federal partners
Criteria for Declaring an Outbreak in the Workplace
Based on Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Guidance: Workplace Outbreak guidance document, a workplace outbreak may be declared if two or more employees test positive for COVID-19 through laboratory-confirmed test (not rapid test at work), within 14 days of each other and there is reason to suspect transmission occurred in the workplace.
If the WECHU determines there is evidence of transmission in the workplace identified through an investigation, the employer will be notified as soon as possible.
Roles and Responsibilities in a Workplace Outbreak Investigation
Refer to the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Guidance: Workplace Outbreak guidance document to learn more about the specific roles and responsibilities of the Employer, Public Health Unit (PHU), Public Health Ontario (PHO), Ministry of Health (MOH), and the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) in the event of an outbreak in the workplace.
Role of the Employer
- General duty under OHSA to take all reasonable precautions in the circumstances for the protection of workers.
- Comply with OHSA and other applicable legislation and regulations, and any orders issued by MLTSD or local Medical Officer of Health (MOH).
- Implement prevention measures issued by the Ontario government and any other prevention measures recommended by public health agencies.
- Provide notices of an occupational illness to the MLTSD under ss 52(2) of the OHSA.
- Cooperate with public health investigations and MLTSD OHSA inspectors.
- Regularly maintain accurate shift records and up-to-date contact information for employees.
- Communicate with staff and other stakeholders, as needed, when there is an outbreak.
Role of the Public Health Unit
- Receive and investigate reports of cases and contacts of COVID-19 in accordance with the Public Health Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario and the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA).
- Investigate clusters of cases associated with common workplace locations.
- Determine if an outbreak exists, provide guidance and recommendations to workplace on outbreak measures, and determine when the outbreak is over.
- Issuance of orders by the Medical Officer of Health or their designate under the HPPA, if necessary.
- Make recommendations and facilitate outbreak testing, and provide an investigation or outbreak number to coordinate testing.
- Issue a Public Health Alert to notify other public health units, where necessary.
- Refer and/or communicate with relevant stakeholders and ministries, as necessary.
- May provide information to employers regarding their duty to report occupational illness to the MLTSD if they have not been notified.
- May share recommendations/orders issued to the employer with MLTSD for their awareness.
- Conduct an on-site investigation as part of the outbreak investigation, where necessary.
- When a positive case is identified, the WECHU conducts an investigation by contacting each confirmed positive case of COVID-19 to determine how the individual may have become infected and who that individual was in close contact with during their infectious period.
Role of the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD)
- Receive notice of an occupational illness (e.g., transmission of COVID in the workplace) from employers under subsection 52(2) of the OHSA, investigate to determine if the employer is in compliance with the OHSA, and that appropriate measures have been taken to prevent further illness.
- Proactively investigate workplaces to monitor compliance with the OHSA and its regulations.
- Investigate unsafe work practices, critical injuries, fatalities, work refusals, and occupational illness, all as related to worker health and safety – this includes investigations of reports of COVID-19 by employers to MLTSD.
- The MLTSD Health and Safety Contact Centre (1-877-202-0008) is available for anyone to report health and safety concerns, complaints or to provide notices of occupational illness.
- If employees have safety concerns at work, they are encouraged to contact their human resource department, health and safety representative, or the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
Case and Contact Management for a Workplace Outbreak
- When a positive case is identified, the Case and Contact Management (CCM) team at the WECHU investigates to determine how the worker may have become infected, and who that individual was in close contact with during their infectious period.
- A public health investigation may include any of the following:
- Interviewing the employer to assess existing prevention measures and possible sources of transmission in the workplace.
- Requesting for information to help identify additional cases and tracing contacts, which may include staff contact information, staff schedules/work attendance, and patron logs. The WECHU has created screening tools and log sheets in multiple languages to help with the collection and tracking of this information.
- Please note that all requested information must be provided to WECHU in a timely manner to help stop further spread of COVID-19.
- Be mindful of the privacy of people’s personal health information – do not disclose the names of employees who test positive.
- Providing guidance on additional required prevention measures (e.g., enhanced cleaning and disinfection), including workplace restrictions and closures to reduce the risk of disease spread in the workplace.
- Recommendations on targeted testing of staff.
- Support in communicating to staff, business partners, and the public, where necessary.
- On-site inspection of the workplace.
- Employers should ensure that all staff continue complete daily self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, and complete a COVID-19 workplace screening tool before reporting to work each day. If employees are symptomatic or fail the screening, they should be directed to seek guidance from a health care provider and undergo testing if indicated.
Return to Work Timelines
The COVID-19 Decision Guide for Workplaces provides details on return to work guidelines for employees based on their level of exposure to COVID-19 (i.e., high or low risk contact), the results of their COVID-19 test, and the severity of symptoms from COVID-19. For additional information, you may also review the Government of Ontario’s COVID-19 self-isolation and return to work webpage.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The Workplaces, Employers, and Employees FAQ page provides answers to a variety of workplace-related COVID-19 questions, such as the following:
- What happens if an employee notifies the workplace of a positive COVID-19 test or possible exposure to someone with COVID-19?
- What happens if WECHU notifies an employer about an exposure linked to their workplace?
- How do I know if an employee may have been exposed to COVID-19?
- What is Considered a Close Contact (or Higher Risk Contact)?
- What is Considered a Lower Risk Contact?
- Local Pandemic Status
- COVID-19 Home Page
- COVID-19 Screening Tool for the Workplace
- Resources & Downloadable Signs
- Have COVID-19 or been exposed?
- Frequently Asked Questions for Workplaces, Employers and Employees
- Protect Yourself: Self-Monitor
- Protect Yourself: Self-Isolate
- COVID-19 School Outbreak webpage
- Local Assessment Centres
- COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan
- COVID-19 Response Framework: Keeping Ontario safe and open
- Ontario Regulation 82/20: Rules for Areas in Stage 1
- Find A COVID-19 Assessment Centre
- Online COVID-19 self-assessment
- Guide to the Occupational Health and Safety Act
- COVID-19 self-isolation and return to work
- You were tested for COVID-19: What you should know
- COVID-19 public health measures and restrictions
- COVID-19 Guidance: Workplace Outbreak
- Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario
- COVID-19 Quick Reference Public Health Guidance on Testing and Clearance