March 12, 2020by Israel Foulon LLP
At the time of writing, the World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Canada now has over 100 cases of COVID-19 with one death from the virus being reported. Although the majority of the cases in Canada relate to travel, there now appears to be a handful of “community- acquired” cases.
In response, the Canadian government has announced that it will be waiving the one week waiting period for Employment Insurance benefits, so that individuals who self-isolate or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 are able to access EI in a timely manner.
On March 11, 2020, President Trump announced that the United States is temporarily suspending most travel from Europe to the United States for a period of thirty (30) days from midnight on Friday March 14, 2020, in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
In the circumstances, it is a good idea for employers to take further proactive measures and institute clear policies regarding disclosure of travel to any risk zones (as determined by the Canadian government), as well as to require employees to self-isolate if they have travelled to a risk zone, been in contact with anyone with COVID-19, or are otherwise experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (it is best to seek legal advice before formally introducing such policies).
As of March 11, 2020, Travel Health Notices are currently in effect for the following countries (this may change on an ongoing basis):
- China (Level 3 – avoid all non-essential travel)
- France (Level 1 – practise normal precautions)
- Germany (Level 1)
- Hong Kong (Level 1)
- Iran (Level 3)
- Italy (Level 3)
- Japan (Level 2 – practise special precautions)
- Singapore (Level 1)
- South Korea (Level 2)
- Spain (Level 1)
The Public Health Agency of Canada has also advised that Canadians avoid all travel on cruise ships.
Symptoms and Transmission
According to the Ontario government, coronavirus’ symptoms range from common to severe respiratory illnesses and include:
- difficulty breathing,
- pneumonia and kidney failure, and
- death in severe cases.
To reduce exposure to and transmission of coronaviruses, the Ontario government advises to follow usual health precautions such as:
- washing your hands often,
- avoiding contact with people who are sick, and
- practising proper cough and sneeze etiquette.
Tips for Employers
- Educate employees regarding symptoms, risks, and prevention measures (by obtaining information from credible sources such as Toronto Public Health and the Ontario Ministry of Health).
- Remind employees that health and safety procedures are being put in place as a precaution, and that employees should be reassured, rather than panicked, by them.
- Encourage employees to practice ‘social distancing’ where possible (remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.
- Consider setting up spatial/environmental alternatives or rearrangements in the physical work space to promote social distancing.
- Consider alternatives to large group gatherings where possible (e.g., phone or Skype calls instead of meetings).
- Encourage employees to wash their hands at least several times per day – including prior to commencing work and after sneezing and/or coughing.
- Provide hand sanitizer.
- Introduce a policy requiring disclosure of employee travel to a coronavirus risk zone as determined by the Canadian government and self-isolation where appropriate (seek legal advice before implementing this policy or requiring self-isolation).
- Ensure employee medical disclosure is limited to the extent necessary to take precautions to protect health and safety. Require sick employees to stay home and remind them of any company sick leave policies, if any.
- Work from home feasibility should be considered (where possible and appropriate).
- Become familiar with potentially relevant/applicable Employment Standards Act, 2000 leaves of absence (e.g., family caregiver leave, sick leave, etc).
- Consider accommodating at-risk employees by use of alternative work arrangements, if and when appropriate.
- Ensure that supervisors and managers are familiar with work refusal obligations under applicable health and safety legislation.
- Advise employees to seek immediate medical attention if they have recently been on a cruise or travelled to any risk zones identified by the Canadian government (Levels 1 to 4), have had close contact with someone who is showing coronavirus-related symptoms, or are otherwise experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
- Act on objective facts and do not make incorrect assumptions that could give rise to discrimination or other legal issues under the Human Rights Code (e.g., requiring all individuals who are Chinese to self-quarantine as a precaution) or other applicable legislation etc.