From day-to-day, in the COVID-19 pandemic, regulations seem to change depending on hospitalizations, new case counts, and other metrics. What hasn’t changed is an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe work environment for employees.
Workplace health and safety within a COVID framework has proven challenging, no doubt. However, many employers continue to work excessively hard to protect workers and reinforce public health requirements and recommendations.
Let’s learn about what is required of employers to create a safe COVID work environment:
1. Writing a Safety Plan
Under the Reopening Ontario Act, 2020, every business must have a written safety plan describing what’s being done to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. This plan must be easily visible and can be seen and reviewed by employees at will. A safety plan may adapt over time and be changed to accommodate all existing public health guidelines.
2. Screening Workers Daily
Every employer is required to screen their workers before they enter the workplace at the start of a shift. A worker cannot enter without being filtered, and a team member who doesn’t pass screening must be sent home. Even though screening does not rule out the possibility of COVID transmission altogether, it can reduce its likelihood. Employers can use different screening methods, from question-based to rapid antigen testing.
3. Control Measures
An employer must use control measures to limit the risk of transmission between employees. Masking is one such requirement. Hand hygiene and maintaining physical distancing are required under control measures a business follows. If an employer notices a team member has any symptoms, they must be sent home as well. Even fully vaccinated employees are to follow control measures.
4. Protecting Workers’ Health And Safety
Another legal framework employers are held to is the Occupational Health And Safety Act, wherein they are responsible for taking “every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker.” This will include some general rules, such as mandating that employees remain at home when they are sick, practising hand hygiene, adhering to respiratory and mask requirements, cleaning and disinfecting workstations, and more.
5. Accommodations for Non-Mask Wearers
Some workers may not wear a mask due to a health condition. If this arises in your workplace, an employer may need to implement other control measures to replace a mask’s protection. An employer cannot reduce protection for other workers because of a team member who cannot wear a mask.
6. Adhering To Employment Standards
The Employment Standards Act, 2000 comes into play with COVID as it outlines the minimum standards of employment, including subjects like leaves. Last year, the province amended the Act to require employers to provide employees with up to three days of paid infectious disease emergency leave because of reasons relating to COVID-19. Many employers needed to consult professional legal services, like with the ELT, to ensure they abide by the guidelines.
7. Adhering to the Canada Labour Code
The Canada Labour Code requires employers to oversee the health and safety of their employers. As this pertains to a safe COVID work environment, an employer has a legal obligation to investigate and report any confirmed case of COVID-19. Businesses must do their most to prevent the recurrence of exposure.
8. Staggering Meal and Break Times
COVID transmission may occur during meal and break periods at work. As an employer, you may consider ways you can create and maintain physically-distanced safe spaces in which an employee can have their break time, reinforce strong policies, and ensure good ventilation for these areas as well. A part of this is spacing out dining tables and furniture, removing anything contributing to overcrowding, and providing visual markings to support physical distancing.
9. Cleaning and Sanitization
Cleaning is still a large part of having a safe COVID environment. Regularly touched items or surfaces should be cleaned. Equipment before and after use should be sanitized. A new aspect of cleaning and sanitization has been filtering the air in recent months. If you cannot open doors and windows to circulate air, air filters in select areas can help purify and remove COVID contaminants.
10. Limiting In-Person Interactions
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, employers should keep existing public health measures in mind, including capacity limits and limiting in-person interactions. A business can do this by setting up work-from-home scenarios when it’s possible to do so. More than vaccines, physical distancing and limiting in-person interactions are the most effective tool in maintaining a safe COVID work environment.
11. An Allowance for Unpaid Leaves
The Canada Labour Code also reinforces the right of any worker to take an unpaid leave from the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a federally regulated workplace, a qualifying employee can take an unpaid leave related to COVID-19 for up to 42 weeks. This protects an employee’s job and ensures an employee has the right to stay home if they believe it to be necessary.