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Workplaces, Employers and Employees

Every worker in Ontario has the right to refuse work that he or she believes is unsafe to himself/ herself or another worker and may expose them to undue hazard. This right is covered under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. A work refusal is a last resort effort to protect the worker from exposure to the undue health hazard when efforts to have the risk mitigated have not been satisfactorily addressed.

An undue hazard is an “unwarranted, inappropriate, excessive, or disproportionate” hazard. For the COVID-19 pandemic, an “undue hazard” would be one where a worker’s job role places them at increased risk of exposure and adequate controls are not in place to protect them from that exposure. In these circumstances, the worker is advised to follow the detailed procedures outlined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act to resolve the issue.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act does not mandate employers to implement health monitoring for COVID by performing temperature checks in the workplace. Temperature checks alone may not provide sufficient information to determine whether or not a worker suffers from COVID-19, as it presents with a range of symptoms which often overlaps with many other illnesses. As a result, the presence of a fever alone may not be indicative of COVID-19, nor does it rule out its absence.

Employers who choose to perform these checks should be aware that individual health information is kept highly confidential in accordance with Ontario’s Personal Health Information Privacy Act. It is important for employers to note that employees must give informed and voluntary consent before their temperature can be read and documented. To ensure that the temperature is accurately taken, consider asking a trained medical professional to perform the task. The personnel should review the direction of use for the thermometer or scanning equipment to ensure it is performed properly.

An employer may require an employee to provide a medical note from a health practitioner such as a doctor, nurse practitioner or psychologist when the employee is taking the leave because of personal illness, injury or medical emergency if it is “reasonable in the circumstances” https://www.ontario.ca/document/your-guide-employment-standards-act-0/sick-leave.

However, the employer can ask only for the following information:

  • the duration or expected duration of the absence
  • the date the employee was seen by a health care professional
  • whether the patient was examined in person by the health care professional issuing the note
  • Employers cannot ask for information about the diagnosis or treatment of the employee’s medical condition.

It is recommended that employees who are sick to not attend work until symptom free for 48-hours. Your employer will put in policies and procedures to limit exposure in the workplace. Employers with employees recently returning from travel should follow public health guidance and make the following considerations:

  • Non-essential travel outside of Canada is prohibited and all returning travelers are required to self-isolate for 14 days under the Quarantine Act. Individuals who are self-isolating should NOT go to work.
  • At any time during self-isolation if symptoms develop residents should contact their healthcare provider or the WECHU at 519-258-2146 ext. 1420 to determine next steps.
  • If individuals have had contact or potential contact with a case of COVID-19, they should contact their primary care provider or the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit at 519-258-2146 ext. 1420 for information.

Please refer to the Ministry of Labour for any further questions related to workplace practices.

We encourage that employers follow Health Canada guideline for Hard-surface disinfectants for use against coronavirus (COVID-19) to ensure that your workplace is kept clean and safe for clients and employees. For surfaces that are frequently touched such as door handles, knobs, railings, taps, light switches and telephones, Health Canada recommends cleaning with approved agents like regular household cleaners and diluted household bleach. We advise that employers ensure that staff responsible for cleaning, use disinfectants with a Drug Identification Number (DIN), an 8-digit number located on the package, as its indicative that the agent has been approved by Health Canada to be effective against COVID-19.

As store sizes and layouts differ depending on the business, there is no set limit on the number of patrons permitted in a store at a given time. Business owners are required to ensure that there is room for physical distancing between patrons and staff at all times. The Framework for Reopening Stage 1 Guide suggests that businesses limit the number of patrons per square metre of space, for example, one customer per 4 square metres. For more about the Stage 1 reopening plan read the full document here.

All confirmed cases receive guidance from health unit nurses. Positive cases of COVID-19 must self-isolate for 14 days after their onset of symptoms. It is important that individuals receive and follow guidance from public health staff in order to reduce the risk of any further transmission of the virus. At the end of the two weeks, provided they have been symptom free for 48 hours or longer, individuals would be able to return to work and practice ongoing physical distancing, avoiding public places and self-monitoring for symptoms in line with all public health community recommendations. Individual workplaces can create their own guidelines and policies regarding return to work for their employees as long as they do not conflict with the public health guidance recommendations.

Yes, LLD is sufficient. Disinfectants should have a DIN or NPN. High- touch surfaces should be disinfected twice daily and when visibly soiled. Surfaces that come into contact with clients should be disinfected after each client (e.g. hairdressing/barbering chair). For more information on cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and equipment refer to Public Health Ontario’s Guide to Infection Prevention and Control in Personal Service Settings, 3rd edition.

Due to confidentiality concerns, the health unit will not be contacting workplaces to discuss individual cases however, individuals may be contacted as a part of the contract tracing process. Individuals should inform there employer of their test results so that proper health and safety measures can be put in place.

Yes, as part of health and safety requirements, employers are encouraged to develop and implement hygiene and physical distancing training programs that are tailored to work environments and are in accordance with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit guidance for COVID-19.  Such coordination will help ensure plans are aligned with current national and provincial regulations and guidelines, and agencies have sufficient resources and workforce planning in place to carry out their business in a safe manner.

The WECHU follows up with all COVID-19 cases and close contacts of any person confirmed with COVID-19 through laboratory tests. A “close contact” is defined as:

  • A person who provided care for the case, including healthcare workers, family members or other caregivers, or
  • Who had other similar close physical contact, or
  • Who lived with or otherwise had close prolonged contact with a probable or confirmed case while the case was ill.

If you are concerned about your safety at work, please contact your human resource department or internal occupational health and safety committee. If you have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 you will be contacted.

Capacity is based on the ability for clients and staff to remain at least 2m from one another. To accomplish this, operators may need to render workstations inaccessible, use physical barriers, provide visual cues (e.g. indicating with tape on the floor), and or rearrange the space to ensure adequate space is maintained. Barriers are not required as long as physical distancing can be maintained.

Following general safe food handling practices and performing frequent and thorough hand washing are effective ways to prevent the spread of food borne illnesses and viruses such as COVID-19. In addition to safe food handling practices and hand washing:

  • Do NOT go to work if you are feeling sick
  • Increase the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing of the delivery vehicle
  • Note that glove use is not necessary and does not replace proper hand hygiene
  • Be sure to maintain the required 2 metre physical distance between yourself and others if waiting in line to pick up takeout food for a delivery
  • Avoid close contact with customers during the delivery process by arranging for prepayment on the phone or online
  • If possible, make arrangements to drop off the food delivery at the home’s entrance instead of having direct interaction with the person receiving the delivery.

Following general safe food handling practices and performing frequent and thorough hand washing are effective ways to prevent the spread of food borne illnesses and viruses such as COVID-19. 

In addition to safe food handling practices and hand washing:

  • Do NOT go to work if you are feeling sick

  • Increase the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing surfaces, equipment and utensils

  • Note that glove use is not necessary and does not replace proper hand hygiene

  • Avoid close contact with customers and co-workers by maintaining a 2 metre distance from yourself and others as much as possible

For more detailed information from the Ministry for food service employers and workers, visit the Restaurant and food services health and safety during COVID-19 webpage.

Employers are legally obligated by the Ontario Human Rights Code to accommodate all employees to the point of undue hardship. If an employee discloses a medical condition that may make him/her vulnerable to COVID-19, we recommend that the employer examines the task to assess risks of exposure while executing the activity. The Public Health Agency of Canada has created a list of vulnerable populations at risk of COVID-19. If you find that the risk of exposure is high, consider way to reduce it by modifying tasks and implementing appropriate policies, plans and procedures to protect all employees. When creating a risk mitigation plan, should follow the health and safety hierarchy of control. It is important for employers to actively engage with their employees to discuss strategies to reduce their risk exposure, as they may able to recommend practical solutions.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission identifies the type of information that accommodation seekers may generally be expected to provide to support an accommodation includes:

  • that the person has a disability
  • the limitations or needs associated with the disability
  • whether the person can perform the essential duties or requirements of the job[222], of being a tenant, or of being a service user, with or without accommodation
  • the type of accommodation(s) that may be needed to allow the person to fulfill the essential duties or requirements of the job
  • in employment, regular updates about when the person expects to come back to work, if they are on leave.

The Ministry of Labour has instituted a new regulation for infectious disease emergency leave – specifically for employee leaves resulting from COVID-19 related issues https://www.ontario.ca/document/your-guide-employment-standards-act-0/infectious-disease-emergency-leave. Employers can require employees to provide proof of entitlement to a leave, but they cannot require an employee to provide a certificate from a physician or nurse as evidence, as outlined below:

 

Proof of entitlement

An employer may require an employee to provide evidence reasonable in the circumstances at a time that is reasonable in the circumstances that the employee is eligible for infectious disease emergency leave but employers cannot require an employee to provide a certificate from a physician or nurse as evidence. Employers are not prohibited under the ESA from requiring medical notes in the context of issues such as return-to-work situations or for accommodation purposes.

What is considered reasonable in the circumstances will depend on all the facts of the situation, such as:

  • the duration of the leave
  • whether there is a pattern of absences
  • whether any evidence is available and the cost of the evidence.

If it is reasonable in the circumstances, evidence may take many forms, such as a:

  • travel documentation showing that the employee had travelled to a country for which quarantine or isolation is being advised
  • a copy of the information issued to the public by a public health official advising of quarantine or isolation (for example, a print out, screen shot or recording of the information)
  • a copy of an order to isolate that was issued to the employee under s. 22 or s. 35 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act
  • a note from an employee's day care provider indicating that the childcare centre was closed because of a designated infectious disease

Employers can only require the evidence at a time that is reasonable in the circumstances. What is considered reasonable in the circumstances will depend on all of the facts of the situation.

For example, if an employee is in isolation or in quarantine, it will not be reasonable to require an employee to provide the evidence during the quarantine or isolation period, if the employee would have to leave home to obtain the evidence. However, if the employee has electronic evidence that can be sent from home, it may be reasonable to require the employee to send it during the isolation or quarantine period.

Regardless of the settings, we recommend that employees take necessary measures to protect themselves against COVID-19 as directed by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. Practicing physical distancing, ensure proper hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette and appropriate use of PPE have proven to be effective in protecting against COVID-19. Here are some useful suggestions to consider;

  • Limit the number of employees who can access the common area at a time to ensure that those using it can maintain physical distancing from each other. This can be done by staggering shifts and breaks, limiting the number of chairs and tables occupying the space and pre-marking the spacing to ensure at least 2 m of separation
  • Ensure that the area; including high touch surfaces, is regularly cleaned using approved disinfectants
  • Ensure that handwashing facilities and supplies, facial tissues, lined disposal bins,  and cleaning and disinfecting supplies are readily available in common areas
  • Remove objects that cannot easily be cleaned from the area like newspaper, magazines, fabrics and furniture.

Employers are advised to develop and implement policies around who can be allowed entry to the workplace. These policies should be communicated to workers, sales representatives, consultants and customers before resumption so everyone understands the expectations prior to attending.

For example, employers could require everyone to complete the COVID-19 Screening tool prior to attending the worksite each day and follow the instructions provided. Everyone should be instructed to stay home if they are sick.

Employers can obtain current information about COVID-19 around Windsor-Essex County by visiting the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit website and following us on Facebook.  Alternatively, you may also consider visiting the Public Health Ontario and Public Health Agency of Canada websites.

The province has an information line called ‘Stop the Spread’ that businesses can call with questions at 1-888-444-3659. This number is available 7 days a week.