According to several governments, social distancing in the workplace may still be required for months to come until there is a final announcement that no new COVID-19 probable or confirmed cases have been announced. Employers will need to review the layout of the workplace to determine what physical changes need to be made to ensure employees are always six feet apart. That and other measures are outlined below.
- Workstations may need to be moved and rearranged.
- Protocols will need to be implemented for the use of boardrooms, cafeterias, shared bathrooms and locker rooms among other locations and spaces.
- Employee movement will need to be coordinated such as arrivals and departures, as well as lunches and other events may need to be staggered.
- Some employees may have to continue to work from home and some positions may be permanently moved to telecommuting positions. Keep in mind that health and safety is still relevant even where workers are working remotely. Employees can still make claims if they sustain a workplace injury while in their “home office.”
- Federal, provincial and territorial (depending on location of workplace) public health instructions will need to continue to be followed. These instructions include requiring employees who report to the workplace to disclose if they are either experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or if they have been exposed to a known case of COVID-19. Until public health guidelines change, any such employees must stay home and follow the directives of public health. Employers may still have to provide job-protected leave of absences for employees to self-isolate or recover.
- Hygiene and cleaning measures will need to continue and be ramped up now that employees are back in the office. Employers have a legal duty to implement reasonable measures to prevent people from contracting COVID-19 or any other diseases at the workplace. These include: washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding close contact with people who are sick; coughing or sneezing into sleeves and not hands; staying home if sick to avoid spreading illness to others; and requiring employees to report unsafe conditions in the workplace.
- Personal protective measures such as gloves and masks may be required and need to be provided by employers. Employers should consider sourcing plans in the event that masks and gloves become required or part of the new normal.
- Employers may have to continue travel bans on all non-essential business travel. However, an employer cannot generally prohibit its employees from leisure travel. Therefore, employers can continue to require that employees report if they have travelled or will travel outside of Canada; and adopt a policy that employees who travel outside of Canada “self-quarantine” and work remotely (or take a leave) for 14 days after returning to Canada to minimize exposure to other employees. This can still apply to employees who work from home and must enter the workplace from time to time.
- If an employee contracted COVID-19, a fit to return to duty may be required. Occupational health and safety legislation requires employers to take every “reasonable precaution” necessary to protect their workers. If an employee was confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, it may be a reasonable precaution to request evidence that the employee is no longer contagious, has recovered and is able to safely return to return to work. A medical note from the employee’s doctor would be an example of such evidence. If the employee is not symptomatic after a 14-day isolation period, or was working from home during the crisis, employers should be discouraged from requiring a medical note.