With the Ontario government starting to lift restrictions on workplaces, employers will have to turn their minds to re-opening their workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic and there are several considerations to keep in mind. The lawyers at Heeney Vokey LLP have put together a list of some of these considerations:
- Confirm that the workplace is allowed to re-open by staying up to date on mandated workplace closures, which are specific to every jurisdiction.
- Comply with obligations under the Occupation Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in Ontario (or other applicable jurisdiction’s health and safety legislation). Under OHSA, employers have a duty to take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of their workers. This includes the following:
- Putting measures in place that are needed to protect workers from infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
- The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that employers conduct a risk assessment when determining the specific public health actions for their workplace. This involves (1) considering the epidemiology of COVID-19, (2) assessing characteristics of the workplace, and (3) assessing the weight of associated risks
- The Canadian government has posted information on performing risk assessments in the workplace and created a helpful risk assessment tool which can be found here: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/guidance-documents/risk-informed-decision-making-workplaces-businesses-covid-19-pandemic.html
- While the use of personal protective equipment (i.e. gloves, masks) and worker screening has not been mandated by the Federal or Provincial governments, consider implementing temporary workplace policies regarding worker screening and the use of gloves and masks at work.
- Informing and instructing workers to protect their health and safety.
- What will be considered reasonable measures to protect workers and what will be appropriate to communicate to workers regarding health and safety will vary by workplace and depending on the status of COVID-19 in the jurisdiction.
- Stay up to date on government guidelines and recommendations/instructions from public health officials, including any advice, recommendations or instructions on physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting.
- Devise an action plan if a worker tests positive or is presumed to be positive for COVID-19.
- Be prepared to close the workplace quickly if needed.
- Consider creating a COVID-19 policy resources, such as a handbook, which may include things such as workplace re-opening procedures, , workplace contact tracing, special accommodations for vulnerable employees and illness reporting requirements.
- With respect to the latter, it is advisable to implement a self-reporting policy whereby workers must report if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and the employer should have a plan in place for managing those reports.
- Review and update employment policies in light of any new legislation impacting the business, such as the new job protected leave under the Employment Standards Act, 2000. Employers may also want to revisit their leave and flexible work arrangement policies.
- Keep human rights top of mind. Employers need to be mindful of discriminatory practices when making decisions, for example, regarding who is returning to work and who is not. Employers should also be prepared to accommodate employees in relation to COVID-19 up to undue hardship, including employees with care-giving responsibilities. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has stated that the Ontario Human Rights Code protects discrimination based on disability related to COVID-19. There may be similar statements in other jurisdictions as well.
- Consider creating a work re-opening committee dedicated to considering, planning and implementing the work re-opening.
This list is a high-level overview and is not exhaustive. Every workplace will require a tailored approach to re-opening its workplace. The lawyers at Heeney Vokey would be happy to devise a specific plan for your workplace and to answer any of your questions or concerns.